Why We Wrote Introductory Relational Database Design for Business, with Microsoft Access

Updated: Jun 8, 2018

Business school students tend to concentrate early on in their academic career in the most marketable disciplines: finance, accounting, marketing, and business analytics. Students enter business school with varying levels of computer expertise: some have taken Python and Java and are active programmers, some have built sophisticated websites, and some have minimal computer knowledge. #IntroductoryRelationalDatabaseDesignforBusinesswithMicrosoftAccess

Whatever computer background a student may have, a Management Information Systems (MIS) course has the potential to provide a strong introduction to efficient database design. Professor Jonathan Eckstein, who has been teaching an undergraduate management information systems (MIS) course at Rutgers University for over twenty years, has seen firsthand the success of the Rutgers’ undergraduate New Brunswick business program’s approach, which differs from that of most business schools.

Typically, MIS courses and textbooks stress superficial familiarity with dozens or even hundreds of aspects of information technology. The Rutgers approach, even before Professor Eckstein arrived there, was different.

At least two thirds of the course is spent achieving a thorough understanding of one of the most vital technologies in information technology: relational databases. However, semester after semester, Professor Eckstein had a tough time finding suitable textbooks. For some time, he used two books: one was a traditional MIS book and the other covered the Microsoft Access relational database product. The books that were specifically about database design are primarily aimed at computer science majors. He felt that these books are overly abstract and too technical for business students just beginning to learn about information technology.

Several years ago, after listening to the concerns about the lack of a good textbook, I suggested that he and I write it together. Our book, which began as a set of class notes, takes a different approach from the traditional MIS textbook. It develops understanding of relational databases step-by-step, through many compact but real-life examples that build gradually in complexity. At every stage, the technology is presented through application examples from business, as well as other fields. According to Professor Eckstein, "I've received numerous comments from students that learning database fundamentals in this way gave them concrete technical skills they could immediately apply at their jobs and internships. And these comments were not just from students majoring in our IT area."

This approach has been known to yield the following benefits:

  • Relatively lasting hands-on knowledge of a pervasive and useful technology

  • Acquisition of immediately marketable skills

  • Development of analytical thinking and problem solving.

In the 20th to 21st centuries, relational databases have been the prevailing technology with which most organizations store their data. While databases have continually increased in size, with data being accumulated at an ever faster pace, the fundamental concepts and techniques of relational database technology have remained the same. Once a person is reasonably computer-savvy, having familiarity with basic productivity software such as e-mail clients, word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation packages, there could hardly be a more important or foundational technology to learn, even if one is just manipulating data on a personal computer.

As they make their way through Introductory Relational Database Design for Business, with Microsoft Access, students design dozens of databases and create dozens of queries, acquiring understanding of relational databases in a way that should be more thorough, applicable, and robust than knowledge acquired by merely memorizing facts and concepts. Students start off by working with existing downloadable database files and creating queries that they run on these files. Then they design their own databases once they have learned the principles of good database design.

Being able to understand and work with relational databases is a marketable skill that students can put to work at the beginning of their careers in almost any industry. While we first introduce queries using Microsoft Access’ QBE (query-by-example) grid, most of this book’s coverage of queries is through SQL (Structured Query Language), which is used with minor variations in nearly all relational database systems.

We have received positive feedback from students who used earlier versions of this text distributed as class notes, to the effect that they were able to “hit the ground running” in summer internships because they already understood how to formulate complex database queries in SQL. Superficial “survey” MIS courses do not provide such skills.

Finally, while this book was conceived as a textbook for undergraduate business students, it can also be used in other educational situations or even outside the context of a graded course, as a relatively “friendly” introduction to database technology. We are not aware of other books, textbooks or otherwise, that develop relational database technology in the incremental, example-rich manner that has proven effective at Rutgers over the past two decades.

Instructors can learn more about our book and order an evaluation copy at the Wiley website. You can also purchase the book there or at Amazon.

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