Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Adapting the Access Northwind Database to Support a Database Course

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Adapting the Access Northwind Database to Support a Database Course

Article excerpt


The pedagogical literature is very sparse in all regards to database design, implementation and management. In fact, since 2004, only eight articles have appeared in the Journal of Information Systems Education regarding database. Of these, two are teaching cases (Green, 2005; Irwin, Wessel and Blackburn, 2012), while six cover topics loosely related to teaching various database concepts (Itri, 2012; Casterella and Vijayasarathy, 2013; Unch, 2009; Carpenter, 2008; Olsen and Hauser, 2007; Hsiang-Jui and Hui-Lien, 2006).

First and foremost, the scope of this paper is to more completely document the Northwind Traders database, including business processes, establishing business rules, describing relationships and participations, and discussing some problems with the existing design, hence allowing use of the database to enhance teaching and learning. Although the Northwind database has advanced design features related to data macros, embedded macros, Access Class Objects, functions and VBA Modules, these components are well outside the scope of most introductory IS database course and will receive less discussion in this paper. A more advanced database course covering triggers, stored procedures, and procedural code may better facilitate exploration of these components within the Northwind database, following an understanding of the content of this paper, that is, documentation of the database. Furthermore, it is assumed that students already be presented with the basic concepts of database design, including tables, queries, forms, reports, primary/foreign keys, table relationships, etc., so that this paper can be used illustratively, either concurrent to the concepts being learned, or post-concept teaching to bring it all together in a complete database solution. It is hoped that this paper can be used as a teaching and learning tool, and as a guide for practitioners using the Northwind sample database as a design template.

Yue (2013) recently presented a thorough overview of a common problem in database courses: the unavailability of large sample databases for teaching and learning database concepts. He provided evidence that large illustrative databases are scarce, while those provided by textbook publishers are too small, overly simplified, contain only basic tables, and use multiple databases across examples and exercises. He further recommended the Sakila database as a solution, which is a large sample database that installs with MySQL (Sakila, 2013; MySQL, 2013). He also echoed the sentiment that these textbook databases would "under no circumstance prepare the students for the true feel and experience they would need to cope with once they graduate and work in the real world" (Jukic and Gray, 2008).

On the other hand, large and complex databases can create challenges to teaching and learning because of the complexity, schema, constraints, and other barriers that must be overcome prior to illustrating database concepts, such as design, implementation, and management. Yue (2013) further related the reality that students must overcome a steep learning curve for any large database before being able to successfully complete examples and assignments. As such, this paper more fully documents the semi-realistic database: Microsoft Access's Northwind Traders database. The documentation in this paper includes describing the fictitious company's business processes, including describing the database objects, establishing business rules, defining the tables, establishing the entity representation model (ERM), further describing the table relationships and participations, and discussing some errors within the existing design.


Microsoft Access is a desktop relational database with many design features of enterprise level systems, but with limitations on the database size, the number of objects (tables, queries, forms, and reports), the number of fields and queries per table, the number of concurrent users, and lack of concurrency control (among other differences) (Access 2010 specifications, n. …

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