H. Kyle Anderson
H. Kyle Anderson
Lecturer, Clemson University

I started using Excel in my computer lab classroom in 1997 and soon banned students from using calculators and cell phones to calculate answers. I understand some schools and majors do not require students purchase a laptop, but most of those schools provide access to computers. No more excuses, it is time to add Excel to your assignments. The bottom line, calculators, are the worst enemy of our students. Here’s why:


Calculators allow students to:

  1. Calculate an answer without developing a coherent system of analyzing a problem.computer-device-electronics-884453v2.jpg
  2. Provide no meaningful support to review their work.
  3. Require duplication of work to:
    1. produce a report.
    2. answer a similar problem.
  4. Use outdated technology—My 1983 Texas Instrument BA 55™ basically has the same functions as their 2017 models. As educators, why are we still using technology similar to the Motorola Bag Phone?


Here are five ways to make the transition to Excel in your classroom a success.

  1. Completely copy the exercise into an Excel template.
  2. Keep it simple using simple commands.
  3. Spend brief periods of class time on how to use Excel.
  4. Let Excel take the math out of the exercise,
  5. Do not share your Excel solution with your class.


First, select an exercise or problem and completely copy it into an Excel worksheet. This avoids lost time with students inputting data, facilitates focusing on creating a solution, and provides a template for students to learn how to develop an effective approach to solve problems. I use Box cloud storage to save and share files with my students. Be sure to synchronize your Box folders to your computer, so any changes you make to the files are automatically updated in the link you provide your students. Google Docs work, but their version of Excel is cumbersome to use. Also, make sure that you only allow students to download your files to avoid issues with your files being changed or deleted.


Second, Excel is easy to use, but your students might be afraid of giving up their calculators, so spend extra time in class with quick tips and techniques for using Excel. Keep it simple, in my introduction classes my students only have to be able to add, subtract, divide, multiply, copy, paste, save, and use absolute references.  My class structure is flipped, so I form groups for students to solve in-class assignments. This allows students to help each other and frees me to walk around and work with groups and individual students. I increase motivation by assigning approximately one point for every in-class assignment. Students transfer their answers to the online homework for automatic grading and posting to my Canvas grade book. This accounts for a total of approximately 50 points in my 1,000 point class or about a half a letter grade.


Third, spend brief periods of class time on time on how to use Excel in the In-class assignments. There are short videos in the Excel help menu for anything you want to do, but I also created a KyleTV video on Essential Excel Skills to help students learn the basics of what they need for my class.

Click on the links below to download my video and the Excel file template to use in your class.

Essential Excel Skills Video

Excel File for video


Fourth, take the math out of the exercise. I set up my in-class exercises with the key data already input so students can focus on using Excel to work out the solution and we spend the majority of class time discussing what the solution means. Most often, a student is not required to enter any numbers in the in-class assignment, just manipulate data.

I start every semester with a simple math test requiring 30 calculations, and after 5 minutes, I stop the test. At most, 20% of the students have an answer, and the rest are still keying numbers into their phones and calculators. My students then download my Excel template and solve the problem in about 20 seconds using two formulas and copy and paste.



What is the total of the following?

Data Set


Divided by

Times by












































The ease of calculating many data points with a simple equation allows us to easily incorporate tools such as vertical and horizontal analysis and prior chapter tools in our discussion of what the solution means and the impact on our decision process.


Fifth, do not share your Excel solutions with your class nor require them to e-mail their solutions for grading. Students will take your solutions and pass on to the next class, so you have to come up with new in-class assignments every semester.


If you have them turn-in the Excel file, they will “save time - cheat” by copying other students’ files and “change the appearance.” I want my students to collaborate, so they all get the same in-class assignment but the end of chapter – EOC’s are algorithmic. This promotes students working homework together and understanding of the results since each student has different numbers.

In conclusion, it is time to toss out that Bag Phone, retire our old ways, and embrace business practices of today. It is a lot of fun, and your students will appreciate it when they get first internship or job!


Remember, you are not teaching students how to use Excel but how to think with Excel.


If you’d like to learn more, or request the templates I use for Intermediate and Managerial Accounting in-class assignments, put a note in the comments box below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.