Recently, four Class Central team members (living in different countries) took Macquarie University’s Excel Fundamentals for Data Analysis together, via Coursera.
I am not a data analyst, but have used Excel for various projects and have been keen to learn how to use it more efficiently. When some of my Class Central colleagues proposed creating a study group for the course, I decided to join them.
A Well-Designed Course
It was an interesting journey! The course was well designed, with workbooks to download each week. Each video explained one or two functions, followed by a practice sheet which you could use to answer around 5 ungraded questions. Each week also provided a practice challenge, a Toolbox (a PDF of useful functions) and a graded quiz. Marks were awarded for the weekly quizzes and the final exam which used techniques learned throughout the course.
“Every week contains a toolbox section which has a pdf containing shortcuts, concepts in nutshell and many more. It really acts as a quick reference guide.”
The practice sheets, weekly quizzes and final exam all featured Excel sheets using a few scenarios to familiarize learners with the various functions. Even with all this, I am such a newbie that I struggled with getting the functions correct. I took longer than the “recommended” 15 hours/5 weeks and reset my deadlines without penalty. Other group members, particularly programmers, breezed through the course much more easily than I did: “Each week it took me 2-3 hours to complete…” (Dhawal)
Some Issues and Solutions
Since my computer uses Windows 10, I had no issues using the Microsoft product. Those in the study group who use Apple Macs faced problems such as different keyboard shortcuts and some functions not being available. For one learner, the fifth week spreadsheet would not download, but another team member sent it so he could attempt the quiz. Incidentally, although the course was clearly presented by Nicky Bull and Dr Prashan Karunaratne, support in the discussion forums was virtually non-existent. Having the study group overcame this deficiency.
As well as keeping in contact via Slack, the Class Central study group had bi-weekly Zoom meetings. These definitely helped us all finish the course! I used the first meeting date as a deadline to actually start, and reading about my teammates’ progress helped keep the course in my mind. We even had a “guest” at one of our meetings, who shared his screen so we could see Excel being used for organizing the Class Central catalog.
As things turned out, some family commitments (and my slow progress in understanding and replicating the Excel functions) prevented me finishing the course within the recommended time frame. Knowing that the others had finished the course even with connection difficulties or Mac incompatibility issues inspired me to continue when I felt discouraged.
The practice exercises were extremely useful. As Rui said “Doing hands-on assignments helps me improve a lot rather than only watching videos.”
Create Your Own Study Group
If your workplace is considering forming a study group, here are a few suggestions:
- Have a separate communication channel for the study group members, so they can post about courses without spamming other team members who are not interested.
- Schedule regular catch-up meetings, which serve as interim deadlines, brainstorming sessions, and social occasions. While most of the discussion will naturally be about the course, don’t be afraid to get to know your group personally as well, particularly if your team works remotely.
- Encourage participation without criticism. Accept that what one person breezes through might prove to be a massive challenge for another.
- Offer help if others are struggling. Even if they don’t take up the offer, knowing that help is available is a big encouragement. I can attest to this, because when I posted about feeling discouraged and wondering if I was wasting my time struggling through the course, another group member offered to pair on Zoom. Just knowing it was an option boosted my mood enough to stick with it and I finally passed the course without help.