Databases are an essential part of our modern society. They’re so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget how often we deal with them. Let’s look at a typical Friday evening and count the databases you’ll encounter along the way:
At 5:00, you clock out using your company’s time keeping software (1) and drive home. On the way, you stop by the grocery store. You scan each of your items using the self-checkout stand (2), swipe your loyalty card (3), and pay with your debit card (4). Then, you grab a movie from a DVD rental kiosk (5). Once you get home, you go to your favorite pizza chain’s website, place an order from their online menu (6), and pay with your credit card (7). In the course of an hour or two, you seamlessly used seven databases and didn’t think twice about it.
Our modern world is full of databases, and understanding how they work is a valuable skill. For this reason, the Access chapter of TestOut Office Pro has a slightly different purpose than the chapters on Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Instead of focusing primarily on the software itself, Office Pro uses Access as a vehicle for teaching students how databases work.
The Access chapter of Office Pro helps students learn and understand features that are common to nearly all databases, such as the following:
- Primary Key. Every person, item, or event in a database has a unique identifier attached to it called the primary key. This can be a number, a username, or a code. Primary keys are essential for a database to distinguish between similar records. For example, there are many people named Steve Decker. To tell them apart, the U.S. government uses Social Security numbers unique to each individual.
- Tables. Tables form the foundation of any database. Each table contains several fields, which store a specific kind of information. For example, a table of cars would contain fields for the make, model, year, and color. Each item stored on a table is a record. Each individual car on the table would be its own record. (Incidentally, all cars have a unique VIN which is, of course, also a primary key.)
- Relationships. Databases typically store different kinds of information on different tables. IMDb, an online movie database, has different behind-the-scenes tables for movies, actors, directors, and producers. By using relationships between the tables, the database keeps track of which actors and directors worked on each movie.
- Queries. Queries are powerful tools for getting information out of a database. Each table can store thousands of records, and data is usually stored on multiple tables. Queries narrow down the database to only the information you want to see. For example, a school enrollment database can use a query to show only the teacher and students for a specific classroom.
- Forms. Most database end users will never interface directly with tables and queries. Instead, they use forms to enter and search for data. If you’ve ever bought something online and submitted your name, address, and credit card number, you’ve used a database form.
- Reports. Reports are a visually appealing way to present data from a database. If you’re browsing a movie rental kiosk and ask to see all of the comedies (which you’ll do by using a form), the kiosk will run a behind-the-scenes query of the movie data in its tables, then present the information (the list of comedies) as a report.
Students who complete Office Pro will be able to create desktop databases in Access. More importantly, however, they’ll have a conceptual understanding of how databases work in the real world — an increasingly valuable skill.
About the Author — Steve Decker is an instructional designer for TestOut, and couldn’t make a three-point shot to save his life. He does, however, know a thing or two about fake facial hair.
Share this post