Excel is a tool that has stood the test of time – a pre-requisite technology skill for almost every graduate entering the workforce. But what level of skills do accounting students really need, when they’ll likely be working with specialised accounting software and emerging technology platforms?

When Excel becomes an assumed skillset of the modern student, we start to question how much we need to teach about ‘good old’ spreadsheets, and how to embed the teaching in the curriculum when proficiency levels vary so much.

Excel is a powerful tool, not only in teaching students the foundations of data analysis, but also other key skills expected from our graduates.

Developing students’ logical thought processes

Nikki Schonfeldt, Lecturer of Accounting at the University of Western Australia, contends that the logical thought process required to build an Excel spreadsheet is one of the reasons why Excel is still an essential tool to teach accounting students.

Schonfeldt reflects, “what I like about introducing Excel to students is that it’s not only the use of the platform, the functionalities, and the way it makes a lot of processes more efficient. It’s also the logical thought process required, which develops an essential accounting skill in our students. If students build a spreadsheet from scratch, they must work with a set of data and create formulas – it forces students to think about processes needed to reach an answer; to resolve a problem. Excel gives us a vehicle to support accounting students in their logical thought process development and critical thinking.”

Nikki Schonfeldt

Nikki Schonfeldt
Lecturer of Accounting at the University of Western Australia

What are the essential skills to teach?

With so much potential, here are a few key learnings that students really need.

Key Excel Functions

When teaching functionality, some add value while others are absolutely necessary:

  • The process of creating and auditing formulas
  • Increasing efficacy with auto-filling and formatting features for presentation
  • The ability to use pivot tables to simplify and analyse complex data
  • The types of charts that can be created to visually display information
  • Utilising data validation functionality – both in-built and customised formulas
  • Analysing hypothetical scenarios by inputting variables and comparing outcomes