Why should students type in data?

Is there ever any justification for getting students to type in huge amounts of data? It’s a point I raise in my book, Go On, Bore ‘Em: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull.

I’ve seen this practice justified on the grounds that if, say, the students have carried out a survey, they will need to enter the data in order to process it. Fair enough, but if the survey is large then that low-level activity will take up more time than is ideal, leading students to a perception that ICT is boring. The real ICT, that of analysing the data, is delayed -- possibly indefinitely if students are slow at typing or tend to make mistakes when entering data.

It seems to me that a better approach would be to arrange for the data entry to be outsourced in some way. Or for the students to have to carry out the survey in order to understand the process, but not to analyse the data – that could be done using a generic set of data which had already been inputted. Perhaps best of all, the data should be collected in such a way that there is no need for physically typing it in. In fact, a useful exercise for students might be to investigate how this happy state of affairs might be brought about.

Another reason often stated is that it gives the kids practice at typing. That’s fine if the purpose of the lesson is to improve typing skills, otherwise isn’t it a waste of time? In fact, I’d go so far as to say that any activity which takes place in a lesson, that is not explicitly listed as an objective should be evaluated from a cost-benefit perspective. I can see that you could justify almost any activity on that basis, but my point is that we should always be asking ourselves, “Will this help us achieve the aims of the lesson? If so, is it worth the cost (in time and effort), or could the same thing be achieved more cost-effectively?"

Having been in lessons where the students are spending an hour typing in rows and columns of numbers, I’d take a lot of convincing that that is ever a good use of anybody’s time.