Excel and MS Word as Learning Aids NK

Font colours

It is easy to confuse the Master worksheet and the copy which you will sort to get selected rows at the top of the file.  It is also easy to confuse the Quizzes worksheet (which contains master copies of each quiz) with the Quiz sheet which you will be continually sorting and amending.  I therefore use a light orange font for my data in both the Master Worksheet and the Quizzes worksheet.  This is not as easy to read as black print and serves as a warning that the sheets must be copied before they are manipulated.  Obviously as soon as a sheet has been copied I select everything (Ctrl+A) and change the font colour.

Showing Possible Answers

When you start using a Quiz as a learning tool, you might find it useful to have a list of possible answers always on display.

Before you start running a quiz copy the answer column, leave at least one empty column, and then paste the answers. 

Click in a cell in this column and click on the Sort Ascending button.  The empty column will ensure that, when you shuffle the quiz rows, this extra answer column remains unaltered.  The possible answers are easiest to use if they are sorted.


Keeping Score

A good way to check progress is to leave a blank column and then have two columns headed "Right" and "Wrong".  If you have had 3 conscutive correct answers then the bottom row will contain a "3" in the Right column.  If the next answer is also correct then you change the "3" to a "4".  If the next answer is incorrect than you leave the "3" and in the next row you enter "1" in the Wrong column.  If you are actually learning then the Right column will contain ever increasing numbers.

Using Audio

Audio files can be on your own computer or they can be on the web.
Audio files can be used as questions or as answers.
Audio files come in many different formats.

All these options introduce complications into using the Excell-At method. When I developed the method to help me learn bird songs, and when I created Excell-At-the-Shma to help someone else learn to read Hebrew, I had to tackle all these problems.  My solutions are in the summary.  The explanations which come before that may encourage other people to come up with better solutions.  I first discuss the scenarios I know most about, and then go onto how I used technologies which I don't at the moment fully understand.

If you know enough about a subject to create your own audio files you will not need the Excell-At method to help you learn that subject, but you will be able to create resources for others to use. 


If you have a microphone or webcam you can create audio files using Sound Recorder.  (This hides under Accessories > Entertainment in my computer, but it may possibly live elsewhere on yours.)  These audio file can be played back using Sound Recorder or any one of a number of other media players.  It is easy to click in a cell and create a hyperlink to an audio file, but if you move the audio file the hyperlink will not work.  You also cannot give the Excel file to anyone else.

To preserve the hyperlinks

  • Create a folder for the application.
  • Store the audio files in this folder
  • Create the Excel file and save it in this folder.
  • Add the hyperlinks to the audio files in the usual way, but make sure that no screen tips (tool-tips) appear for the hyperlink.  Screen-tips don't matter if the sound is being used as an answer, but screen-tips make it almost impossible to use the sound files as questions.
  • Zip the Excel file and all the audio files into a single zip file.
    (On my computer the defaults on my zipping software work perfectly, but with other software one may have to tweak the settings.  If you need to adjust settings, tell me about it, and I will expand these instructions.)

This zip file can be given to anyone else as an e-mail attachment or by any other means.

The student simply creates a folder and unzips all the files into that folder.  This preserves the hyperlink structure.  To use the sound file as an answer, simply click in the cell.  To use the sound files as questions see the section Using Audio as Questions.


Bird songs exist in the web.  Sometimes they are only heard when one clicks on a little microphone, and I don't know of any way to incorporate those files into an Excell-At application.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds/guide/ is an example of a site which gives access to sounds as Quicktime movies. If you click on  http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds/guide/a/arctictern/gallery.asp?type=a&id=/Images/arctictern_tcm5-20239.mov you will hear a Quicktime file.  This URL can be incorporated into a spreadsheet as follows:

  • Navigate to the audio site
  • Copy the URL from the address bar
  • Paste it into a worksheet cell
  • Either click at the end of the address or press F2 to get you to the same place
  • Press Enter.  The address changes to an external hyperlink.
  • Right-click on the link and follow the links to edit the hyperlink.  Click on Screen-tip and make the tip a single space.  (Do not be fooled by the fact that the Screen-tip box appears empty.  If you don't enter a space the full hyperlink will appear as a screen-tip.)

There are no difficulties distributing an Excel-At application when all the hyperlinks are external links to sites on the web.  However users will obviously have to be online to run the quizzes so this is not the ideal form of quiz for people who do not have permanent Internet connections.

Using Audio as Questions

There are problems using audio files as questions.

Hyperlinks will usually incorporate information which identifies the file. For example a link to a bird song will usually contain the name of the bird.
Followed hyperlinks are usually a different colour from un-followed links so the trick of changing the font colour to hide text will not work.

The  Media players all display the file name and this almost always incorporates . Giving files random names doesn't help because one can soon recognise that "skhmvei" is robin and "sgtreim" is thrush.  The solution is easy.

  • Make the cell so small that you can't see the file names
  • Position the mouse over the cell
  • Look away or shut your eyes
  • Click the mouse and listen to the sound
  • Look up and check your answer

There is one more problem - screen-tips.  These will appear when the mouse hovers over a cell containing a hyperlink.  When a hyperlink is created by using Ctrl + K (Insert Hyperlink) then the user has to actually set a screen-tip.  When a hyperlink is created automatically as described above, the hyperlink text is also used as a screen tip, which is why we edit the tip to be a single space.



Add stuff about sound files, both on the web and held internally


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