[Reposted from Insightful Instructional Design, the author's own blog]
There is nothing funnier than the look on students’ faces when you pull an unexpected strategy out of your teaching repetoire. One of the classes I teach at Northwestern Michigan College is Introduction to Computers in Business, a predictable sequence required for every CIT major. Access is Microsoft Office’s database program and can be dry fodder for teaching at times along with being the most challenging for students to learn.
“Today, we’re going to talk about relationships. Let’s start by making a list of what we think is important in a relationship, and I’ll record it on the board.”
Silence other than jaws hitting the keyboard. A little more silence. Then:
- Doesn’t live with their mother.
- No baggage or anything hidden
- Clean and attention to hygiene. (this was a discussion due to definition)
- A soul
There were a few more, but I’m paraphrasing as I didn’t think to take a picture. “We think you know more about us now than you expected to…” was one of the comments, and I take this to be very complimentary. I believe a classroom is a place to know and be known, and to learn about each other in a safe environment. Segue from this list back to course content, which is now listed on the board in layman’s terms.
“Of all of these traits, which one is the most important to you, and one that won’t change over time?” (The answer surprised me, but I’ll leave it to your imagination.) That, in database terms, is our Primary Key. It does take a lot of thought, questioning, and planning, because once you establish the Primary Key, you can’t really change it easily. We went from there to a very short discussion on dating and relationships where you can meet multiple people who have some of your important features in common with you – in Access terms, you can have a one-to-many relationship, or you can find your soul mate who shares the same one-to-one relationship primary key for a of what’s most important over time that won’t change.
90 minutes after the lesson began, our class didn’t quite get to the end of making sure that they had established relationships effectively in the Access mystery we solved. Just like relationships, the first time you try one it is unlikely to turn out quite as expected. We did learn a number of things though, that I hope will help everyone remember how Access works and is used. For example:
- Changing the Primary Key after you started a relationship is ugly and you can lose everything.
- It’s important to think ahead of time what queries you want to ask, and make sure the involved parties (tables) have what you need to answer them.
- Make sure to check referential integrity–you want to make sure there isn’t anything hidden and that it won’t change.
- Narrow down your query criteria to make things more efficient. If there are only a few choices that will work, make sure to use the look up wizard, check boxes, input masks and more to make sure that all your data is clean and neat.
- Most important of all: Don’t worry about time spent testing and pre-planning. Far better to take time in the beginning without investing a lot until you have tested the relationship with queries you know and trust instead of having to scrap tons of work and start again.
We didn’t totally finish the lesson plan of the day. We did, however, learn a lot about Access, and each other, and what makes good relationship. After all, anyone who has every tried to learn a bit of technology can tell you, it is actually all about having relationships to support you when things change!