Microsoft Excel as a Visual [Basic] Teaching and Learning Tool

"If you can parameterize it, you can animate it!"


This document is based on a presentation before the Department of Economics faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in fall, 2004. The purpose is to show some of what Microsoft Excel can offer as a programming environment for the creation of interactive teaching and learning tools.



Several people have helped me master some of the power of Excel.

Two others generously helped me solve particular programming problems:

Back to the Table of Contents

Why Excel?

Why use Excel for interactivity and "almost animation"? After all, there are other tools that are more commonly used. (Macromedia's Flash comes immediately to mind.) The reasons are perhaps few, but they are compelling for me.


My campus is a Microsoft campus, so Excel is available to the students in every lab on campus.

Get the Students to Use a Spreadsheet

If these objects ran in a browser plug-in, there are at least two considerations. First, the user may not have the plug-in. Admittedly, if Excel is the campus computer labs, then standard plug-ins probably are, too. If the objects ran in a standard plug-in, then use of the modules might be seamless and transparent. While this might be a good thing, I would rather use the modules as some leverage to get the students to use a spreadsheet before they are out of school.

Yeah, okay; I admit it...

I know Excel; I do not know Flash. I have Excel; I do not have the capability to produce Flash objects.

Actually, "I know Excel" is a bit misleading. What I knew about Excel's capabilities when I began producing these modules was very rudimentary, particularly in comparison to what I have had to learn to achieve certain goals and effects. But I did not have to begin "from scratch."

Back to the Table of Contents

A Caveat

As Jon Peltier has advised, we should recognize that Excel really isn't particularly secure. By

we are merely making it inconvenient for casual hackers to break in.

The Interactivity

The source of the so-called "interactivity": we allow the student-user to choose the values of various parameters. Each time the student varies the value of a variable or parameter, the student creates a different numerical problem or example. This means that the students have access to a virtually unlimited number of examples and practice problems. An additional value accrues more to the instructor. When students ask, "What's the answer to Number 4 on the midterm?" (for example), the appropriate interactive Excel file is then a medium or environment in which students can work out the answers for themselves on their own!

The nature and usefulness of the interactive resource relies on several characteristics of a Microsoft Excel file. These characteristics include:

With access to a virtually limitless number of different examples and practice problems, the students have the flexibility to experiment with the "what if?" questions that can develop their intuition for the basic problem. Finally, once downloaded, the student need not be online to use the resource. There are no "server-side" elements and only Microsoft Excel is required to use the resource.

Back to the Table of Contents

The Current Inventory

Below are links for the "interactive Excel files." There are two distinct sets of files: files for students taking Economics 113, a Core Curriculum course with no prerequisites and files for students in intermediate microeconomic theory and beyond.

Primarily for Economics 113

If you are not familiar with economics experiments, then the supply and demand curves may be unsettling in the beginning. The power of in-class experiments as an instructional pedagogy is in making economics understandable from the personal, or individual level. Each supplier has a reservation price; each demander has a reservation price. Rather than make them all different, there are usually 1–6 reservation prices for demanders and 1–6 reservation prices for suppliers in each experiment. This causes the corresponding demand and supply curves to be "bumpy" in most cases. In any event, the supply curves are not smooth-and-upward-sloping and the demand curves are anything but smooth-and-downward-sloping. That said, browse the linked Excel files below at your leisure.

Basic demand and supply

Effect of a Unit Tax


Labor Market and Minimum Wage

Pollution: an "externality"

Entry and Exit

Productivity Measurement

Comparative Advantage

Game theory: Bargaining

Back to the Table of Contents

Primarily for More Advanced Microeconomics and Quantitative Work

Long-run Cost: The envelope theorem

Comparative Statics



Contract Curves

See how the contract curve changes when the parameters of the utility functions change or when the total endowment changes.

Walrasian Equilibrium

Walrasian equilibrium under Cobb-Douglas preferences: Each trader has Cobb-Douglas preferences. The changeable parameters are (1) the exponents in the utility functions, (2) the total endowment available and (3) the initial allocation of the endowment. (The file size is 472Kb.)

Game theory

Statistics and Probability


"Pure Mathematics"


Back to the Table of Contents

Professor MitchellEconomics | 05.28.09 ]