Graduates’ use of spreadsheet tools in learning and applying financial mathematics T Kyng & P Taylor, Macquarie University In industrial practice, many financial and statistical calculations are done using spreadsheets. At university the traditional approach used in teaching is for students to solve problems using pen and paper and then to do calculations using a calculator. The traditional approach may be a barrier to the learning of financial theory for many students. The traditional approach may not provide graduates with all the skills needed for the workplace Graduates’ use of spreadsheet tools in learning and applying financial mathematics Our project investigates: The use of spreadsheets and other financial software in the workplace by recent graduates, and The extent to which these skills were learnt at university or on the job, The type of software skills required by employers of recent graduates, The opinions and attitudes of postgraduate coursework students regarding the use of spreadsheets and financial software in the learning of actuarial / financial maths. The nexus between learning and work in order to determine whether the university curriculum should be revised – both in order to improve the learning of financial theory and better to equip graduates with applicable skills for use in the workplace. Graduates’ use of spreadsheet tools in learning and applying financial mathematics Financial mathematics / theory is used for: Financial decision making (buy / sell / hold, exercise option / don't exercise) Valuation of financial contracts / assets / liabilities. Measurement of & reporting on financial condition Mathematics / theory was developed before computers were in widespread use. Its teaching reflects this. In current industrial practice computers and spreadsheets are usually used to perform these calculations. Calculations vary from the straightforward to the very complex. Can be very tedious and error prone to do by hand. Graduates’ use of spreadsheet tools in learning and applying financial mathematics Ex1 - Simple calculation: amortizing loan Payment = principal x [i/(1-(1+i)^-n)] Debt time t = payment x [(1-(1+i)^-(n-t)]/[(1-(1+i)^-n)]] Ex2- complex calculation: valuation of a chooser option: the right to choose at time S whether or not we have a call option or a put option that matures at time T, to buy or sell an asset V for fixed price X value = [V.exp(-y.S)N(d1)-X.exp(-r.S)N(d2)] - [X.exp(-r.S)N(d2')-S.exp(-y.S)N(d1')] d1(T) = (1/(s*T^0.5))*[ln(V/X)+(r-y+0.5*s^2)T] d2(T) = (1/(s*T^0.5))*[ln(V/X)+(r-y-0.5*s^2)T] N(x) = standard normal cdf Graduates’ use of spreadsheet tools in learning and applying financial mathematics Spreadsheet programs: Ideally suited to performing most of these types of calculations. Suited for creating tables / graphs / reports and presenting the results. Are used for these purposes in the financial services industry. Spreadsheets for teaching financial theory is probably a better way of preparing students for the workplace than traditional approach to teaching. Graduates’ use of spreadsheet tools in learning and applying financial mathematics Used surveys to seek out the attitudes / opinions of three groups – 1) postgraduate finance and actuarial students, 2) recent graduates working in the financial services industry, 3) managers who supervise these graduates. we report on the attitudes of the 3 groups Graduates’ use of spreadsheet tools in learning and applying financial mathematics Methodology We designed questionnaires to obtain the opinions of three groups: 1) postgraduate commerce students 2) recent graduates working in the financial services industry 3) managers/supervisors of those recent graduates. The questionnaires were distributed partly by hand (on paper) and partly by email. We report on the results obtained from these questionnaires. Participation in the surveys was both voluntary and anonymous. Recently hired graduate's survey 70 particpants: Survey asked questions about: demographic characteristics of the respondents, what software they use at work, how much time they spend using spreadsheets, what spreadsheet training they had, the importance of spreadsheet skills and the advantages and disadvantages of spreadsheets. Recently hired graduates GENDER: 27% FEMALE, 73% MALE AGE DISTRIBUTION: 71% aged 18-25, 24% aged 25-30, 4% aged over 30 TYPE OF WORK THEY DO: Life Insurance (24%), General Insurance (24%) Investment / Finance / Banking (38%), Other (19%) Degree majors: (a) actuarial studies (b) Accg / finance (c) Maths / stats / computing (g) Other (90%) (41%) (16%) (5%) Recently hired graduates TIME IN CURRENT JOB: 80% of sample in job for less than 3 years (a) less than 1 year (43%) (b) 1 to 3 years (44%) (c) More than 3 years (13%) TYPE OF SOFTWARE USED AT WORK: Spreadsheet Software 99% Word Processing Software 90% Statistical Software 47% High Level Programming Languages 30% Other Software 19% NOTE THAT ALMOST ALL OF THEM USE SPREADSHEETS AT WORK PROBABLY GOT NO TRAINING AT UNI IN SPREADSHEETS, WORD PROCESSING OR STATISTICAL SOFTWARE Recently hired graduates TIME SPENT DOING SPREADSHEET WORK 1% (a) nil 13% (b) 0% - 20% 24% (c) 20% - 50% 61% (d) more than 50% more than 60% of them spend more than half of their time using spreadsheets WHAT SPREADSHEETS ARE BEING USED FOR 77% (a) for ad-hoc straightforward calculations 70% (b) for regular / routine calculations 70% (c) for ad-hoc highly complex calculations 23% (d) for statistical modelling 14% (e) other They’re used for a wide range of things ranging from routine and straightforward to highly complex. Recently hired graduates IMPORTANCE OF SPREADSHEET SKILLS TO EMPLOYEE (a) not at all 1% (b) somewhat 29% (c) fairly 15% (d) very 18% (e) essential 37% IMPORTANCE OF SPREADSHEET SKILLS TO EMPLOYER (a) not at all 1% (b) somewhat 22% (c) fairly 37% (d) very 21% (e) essential 19% Graduate’s perceive spreadsheet skills to be important to have in the workplace and perceive that employers regard it that way too. Over 60% think they’re very important or essential. Recently hired graduates WHAT SPREADSHEET TRAINING DID THEY HAVE? 25% 24% 14% 0% 38% None at all training course by my current / former employer I learned it from my colleagues / supervisor I learned it in my university studies I taught myself SPREADSHEET TRAINING – WHERE SHOULD YOU GET IT? 24% 5% 57% 14% 0% (a) in university education (b) "on the job training" (c) both (a) and (b) apply to some extent (d) expect new staff to already know it (e) other Over 80% believe there should be some training in spreadsheets at university level. Only 24% were provided a training course by employer. Recently hired graduates Graduates’ attitudes to spreadsheets: The advantages 71% (a) easy to use and easy to learn 95% (b) can develop spreadsheet quickly for calculations, both simple and complex 86% (c) widely used in industry practice and many staff use them 71% (d) wide range of capabilities and built in functions and tools 24% (e) tedious and repetitive tasks can be automated using "macros" or VB The disadvantages 0% (a) can be difficult to understand / modify 71% (b) it can be difficult to verify / audit them. 76% (c) often inadequately documented 38% (d) user can modify the code and it is difficult to protect them from this risk 19% (e) other Overall it seems graduate attitudes are more positive than negative regarding spreadsheets. Inadequate documentation was the major negative . MANAGERS / SUPERVISORS OF RECENT GRADUATES EMAILED SAMPLE OF 50 PEOPLE GOT 10 RESPONSES – SMALL SAMPLE BUT RESULTS STILL SIGNIFICANT Q) What type of graduates do you employ. Select all that apply Actuarial Studies 100% Accounting / Finance 30% Economics 30% Maths / Statistics / Econometrics 50% Computer Science 20% Other 10% Q) What software do graduates use in their jobs? Spreadsheet software word processing software statistical software (S+, SAS, etc) high level languages (C, C++, Fortran) Other 100% 80% 70% 30% 40% All of them say the graduates use spreadsheets MANAGERS / SUPERVISORS OF RECENT GRADUATES Q5: Importance of spreadsheet skills for graduate staff: Q6: Importance of visual basic skills for graduate staff: (a) not important at all (b) somewhat important (c) fairly important (d) very important (e) essential Q5 0% 0% 20% 20% 60% Q6 20% 20% 20% 30% 10% 80% of the sample rated spreadsheet skills as at least very important. VB skills are not seen as being as important as spreadsheet skills MANAGERS / SUPERVISORS OF RECENT GRADUATES Q) Does your organisation provide staff with any training in spreadsheets? 30% 30% 40% 0% (a) We provide basic training course (b) On the job training from their colleagues (c) We expect staff to have skills before they join us (d) Staff learn by self study in their spare time Q) What is your view of the training needs of recent entrants into the workforce regarding the use of spreadsheet software? 20% 20% 60% 0% (a) should be included in university training (b) it should be “on the job training” (c) both (a) and (b) apply to some extent (d) expect staff to already have a basic level of competence 80% of respondents believe university should provide at least some training in spreadsheet skills only 30% of respondents say their organisation provides a training course on spreadsheets Overall conclusions from graduate and employer surveys: Both graduates and employers overwhelmingly think that university courses should provide some training in spreadsheet skills. Extent to which training courses are provided to new graduates in the workforce is low 100% of the graduate employees and 100% of the employers reported that excel is used in the workplace by graduates. Over 60% of the graduates use it more than 50% of the time at work Spreadsheet skills are seen by both employees and managers as very important skills Basic spreadsheet skills are more important than visual basic (VB) skills. Spreadsheet, word processing and statistical software skills are required in the workplace but not much training provided on this by university courses Very Brief Literature Review No previous studies of the use of spreadsheets as teaching tools in actuarial studies. Research specifically on spreadsheets - Several studies point to their effectiveness for student learning. Johnson (2006) sets out to demonstrate the educational value for mathematics teaching of spreadsheet software, Argues that it facilitates hypothesis testing, the investigation of variants and algebraic reasoning. Wagner (2006) concerned with demonstrating pedagogical uses of spreadsheets in the context of engineering – Observes that across a number of relevant numerical tasks and problems, “students show significant improvement in their skills”. Kademan (2005) argues, similarly, that spreadsheet software is highly useful in science teaching, because of its data manipulation capacity. Various studies have been done on the use of software in teaching mathematics / science at university level, both regarding the value of these as teaching tools, and the attitudes of staff and students to their use. From a pedagogical viewpoint, various investigators found value in using computers to do complex calculations that have in the past been done by hand. Overall Conclusions The results of our study show that students do benefit from the use of spreadsheets in their university training, both in terms of enhancing their learning and in terms of being better prepared for the workforce. In this context, it is worth mentioning that in industry practice, it is important to be able to do the numerical calculations efficiently and accurately and this means using computers and software to do it. For example, in statistics most of the formulae used for model fitting and hypothesis testing are too complex and tedious to do by hand. No practicing statistician does these sort of calculations by hand. The focus is on using and interpreting the results and not on the calculation process. The same applies to actuarial science. It is important to understand the mathematical theory but it is just as important to be able to apply it and this requires computer skills. Both a theoretical understanding and ability to apply it are required. University training in financial mathematics and actuarial mathematics should be updated and provide students with training in spreadsheets and other software and how to apply these in practical problem solving. The student questionnaire: One hundred postgraduate students participated in the survey. The cohort of students was comprised of about equal proportions of actuarial students and accounting / finance students. The survey was conducted at the end of semester. By this time, the students in the cohort had been exposed to the use of Excel for performing financial calculations every week of the semester. During their undergraduate studies, these students would have been taught financial mathematics in the traditional way. At the start of the semester the level of spreadsheet expertise in the cohort ranged from nil to relatively experienced. Most students had little expertise in spreadsheet programming. The student questionnaire: used a 5-point Likert scale. All but two of the questions fall into one of the three following groups: those inquiring into attitudes to the use of software programs in the classroom, without comparing this approach with traditional teaching methods (questions 1 and 10), those asking the student to compare the merits of traditional and computer-based learning methods as ways of learning and mastering university work (questions 2, 3 & 4); those inquiring into student perceptions of the value of using computers as preparation for the workplace (questions 5, 6 and 7). Student survey questions Q1 complex formulae /tedious calculations can be a barrier to learning the material. ●Q2 In learning financial mathematics using spreadsheets is preferable to using a calculator . ●Q3 Using spreadsheets for the calculations makes it easier to learn the material. ●Q4) In the practical application of finance theory / financial mathematics / actuarial mathematics, using a computer and spreadsheets is preferable to using a calculator for performing the calculations involved. ●Q5) Using spreadsheets for problem solving/ learning of finance / financial mathematics / actuarial mathematics makes me better prepared for the workforce. ●Q6) It is important to receive additional training by the university in the use of spreadsheets and computer calculations so that I am better prepared for the workforce. ●Q7) Much of my training in the use of spreadsheets and Microsoft Excel that I received from my university course will come in handy when I enter the workforce. ●Q8) Students should be allowed to use computers and spreadsheets in their exams instead of a calculator if they wish to. ●Q9) Using spreadsheets and computers to solve financial / mathematical / actuarial problems is an important aspect of this university course. ●Q10) It can be an intellectual challenge to solve financial / mathematical / actuarial problems using computers and spreadsheets. ● Discussion of the Findings: Student Survey Figure 1 shows the average score by question. Scores are 3 = “neutral” 4 = “agree” 5 = “strongly agree” etc We see Q1 has lower level of agreement than other Q's In figure 2 we aggregate the results into 3 categories: agree / strongly agree, neutral, and disagree / strongly disagree. This graph shows the relative proportions of responses in these 3 categories for each question. This graph shows visually that for question 1, opinion was polarised whereas for all the other questions the “agree” category clearly dominated the other 2 categories of response. Student survey Figure 1: average score by question s c o re b y q u e s tio n 5.0 4.5 4.0 3.5 score 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 q u e stio n Q7 Q8 Q9 Q 10 Student survey Figure 2: level of agreement by question le v e l o f a g r e e m e n t b y q u e s t io n 100% 90% 80% proportion 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 q u e sti o n n e u tr a l a g r e e / s tr o n g ly a g r e e d is a g r e e / s tr o n g ly d is a g r e e Q7 Q8 Q9 Q 10 Student survey Discussion of results of student survey Q 1 the only one of our questions that did not get a generally positive answer. Q 10 – the other question in group (a) – shows that our cohort of students did not view the classroom use of computers simply as a means of “letting the computer do the work” but found using computers to solve complex problems to be an intellectually interesting process.. The answers to Q2, 3 and 4 –group (b) were all positive and clearly show that our students preferred computers to calculators for their studies. Their answers to Q3 in particular supports what we have inferred from their answers to question 10 – that computers are a valuable learning tool. The students answers to Q5, 6 and 7 – group (c) questions – were also all positive, showing that the cohort saw the classroom use of computers as an important part of their professional training for the workplace.