Teaching Introductory Computer Programming using Excel VBA
Gove N. Allen Brigham Young University
Objectives Business school students (other than Information Systems students) often show little interest in learning to program computers, seeing little relevance for their chosen career path. This is unfortunate because analytical thinking skills and problem-solving by decomposition skills that are developed in the process of learning to program can benefit many areas that seem only tangentially related. At the same time, students often realize that perhaps no application will play so large a role in their early careers as Microsoft Excel. Accordingly, they often seek opportunities to excel at Excel as a means of differentiation in the job market. What most of them don’t know is that Excel includes a robust computer programming language that allows the user automate the powerful features of Excel to quickly produce very impressive applications. When presented with the opportunity to learn to program Excel, many business-school students view the prospect through different eyes.
Since 2007, we have been offering a course in Spreadsheet Automation that teaches accounting students, marketing students, MBA students and others to become proficient programmers using Excel Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). The course is extremely popular and has lifted the esteem of the information systems department (which offers the course) in the collective opinions of other department within the college. Former students routinely correspond with the course’s teachers to indicate that because of their VBA skills on their internships, they were ultimately offered the full-time position.
Excel is a great language for non-systems majors to learn for three reasons. First, the syntax of VBA is less demanding than that of languages that use C-style syntax. Second, the availability of the macro recorder helps the student generate relatively sophisticated code from very early in their experience. Third, because all of the objects that Excel uses in its core functionality are available for automation, the student can develop very powerful applications with little experience.
This teaching demonstration will detail the course the way it is taught at BYU. It will also include a hands-on demonstration that students complete on their second day of class: An application to take an arbitrary list of stock tickers and automatically retrieve information such as the price/earnings ratio and the earnings per share. This is demonstration requires no prior experience with VBA and is made possible because of Excel’s built in objects for interacting with web servers.
Targeted Attendees Professors who teach Excel or an Introduction to Programming course. To participate in the hands-on demo, attendees will need a connected computer with Windows and Excel
Recommended Citation: Allen, G. N., (2016). Teaching Introductory Computer Programming using Excel VBA. Proceedings of the EDSIG Conference, (2016) n.4175, Las Vegas, Nevada