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Education Hardware

How the Outdated TI-84 Plus Still Holds a Monopoly On Classrooms 359

theodp (442580) writes Electronics almost universally become cheaper over time, but with essentially a monopoly on graphing calculator usage in classrooms, Texas Instruments still manages to command a premium for its TI-84 Plus. Texas Instruments released the TI-84 Plus graphing calculator in 2004. Ten years later, the base model still has 480 kilobytes of ROM and 24 kilobytes of RAM, its black-and-white screen remains 96×64 pixels, and the MSRP is still $150. "Free graphing calculator apps are available," notes Matt McFarland. "But smartphones can't be used on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. Schools are understandably reluctant to let them be used in classrooms, where students may opt to tune out in class and instead text friends or play games. So for now, overpriced hardware and all, the TI-84 family of calculators remains on top and unlikely to go anywhere." So, to paraphrase Prof. Norm Matloff, is it stupid to buy expensive TI-8x milk when the R cow is free?
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How the Outdated TI-84 Plus Still Holds a Monopoly On Classrooms

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  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Thursday September 04, 2014 @08:48AM (#47824209)

    The TI-8x calculators are not outdated; they do exactly what they need to do -- no more, no less. This is an important fact! If they did much more they wouldn't be allowed to be used; if they did much less they wouldn't be useful.

    However, that's not an excuse for them continuing to cost $100+. There should have been an opportunity for some competitor (e.g. Casio or HP) to use 2014 technology to deliver the same capabilities with less manufacturing complexity and thus a cheaper price. Apparently, Casio is trying this, but they're not being aggressive enough: if Casio beat teachers and parents over the head with how cheap calculators should be by selling theirs for $25 or so, then IMO they'd be more successful.

    IMO, a worthy "update" to a TI graphing calculator would not be more RAM or a faster CPU, it would be power envelope improvements so it could run on solar (like a 4-function calculator can) and a slimmer, lighter body. (Of course, these days I just use a TI-89 emulator on my Android cellphone instead, so I'm not the target market...)

    Incidentally, the other thing I don't understand about this is why anybody picks a TI-84 when they could have a TI-86. TI-89s are prohibited for standardized tests (because they have a Computer Algebra System), but TI-86s aren't and are better than TI-84s in every other way as far as I can tell...

  • Teaching kids R (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Slashdot Parent ( 995749 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @08:57AM (#47824273)

    So, to paraphrase Prof. Norm Matloff, is it stupid to buy expensive TI-8x milk when the R cow is free?

    I don't know much about cows or milk, but if we could figure out a way to teach our kids R instead of how to use a TI-8x that they'll never touch again after graduation, we would be doing them a huge service.

  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @08:58AM (#47824287)
    "They want everyone to have the same one so they only have to explain it once."

    Then the schools can damn well buy the calculators for their students.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:10AM (#47824365)

    It's called a monopoly: the vendor sets the price.


  • by jtwiegand ( 3533989 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:25AM (#47824497)
    Never in high school was a calculator allowed on any math tests. All problems were written to be solvable without a calculator, and they were plenty challenging. And this way, the students were pretty confident when they were going astray on an answer, since most everything wound up being a whole number, basic fraction, or one of the more common irrationals. I graduated High School is 2001 from a public school as well.

    Whats more important is that they taught is math, not how to use a calculator. How to use a calculator changes with the calculator, and isn't a particularly valuable skill to learn compared to the fundamentals of calculus and the other higher math. Yes, I almost never do math anymore by hand, I write a program for it, but learning all those fundamental rules about the quadratic equation, even those weird trig substitution formulas come in handy once in a while when solving a weird problem.

    Calculators aren't necessary in high school mathematics, and should not be used.

    Now for chemistry and physics I can't see no calculator simply because the numbers are so unwieldy most of the time, but I think there is a way to write a test that does not require a calculator.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:31AM (#47824549)

    They could use an e-paper display for even lower power consumption and better readability (higher resolution, better contrast).

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:42AM (#47824659)

    Humans are now distributed systems, there is no value in memorizing any fact when information is available 24/7 everywhere.

    Remember that the next time your surgeon needs to look something up on Google while you are coding on the operating table.

    Yes there is value in knowing facts even to this day and that will never change. If any of my employees had to look up how to do their jobs constantly they would be quite useless. There is SOME information that is not worth memorizing but it doesn't follow that there is no value in memorization at all.

  • Because school districts taxing property owners and buying calculators is so much more efficient than students obtaining their own calculators with that same money.

    Who said the students would keep the calculators? The only situation where you MUST HAVE THIS SPECIFIC CALCULATOR is in the classroom. Keep the calculator there! The special calculator stays where people find it worthwhile, everywhere else the rest of us can use a computer like a normal person.

    If you're actually going in to a field where having a fancy calculator is useful versus a smartphone you can buy it yourself then. Most of us have absolutely no need for these things beyond the few tests for which they're required.

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @10:20AM (#47825051)
    While your highbrow insult of the poster above is likely baseless generalization, the "Google has allowed stupid people to X" is interesting concept. In my opinion, this is overwhelmingly positive societal benefit. If mediocre people can be more productive, then society as a whole can be more productive. It doesn't matter how smart is the person that solved the problem, all that matters is that the problem is solved.
  • by Sentrion ( 964745 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @11:54AM (#47826357)

    So a school requires attendance by force of law, requires parents to use a specific make and model of product, and you think that constitutes a free market for setting the price?

    From Wikipedia:

    "A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity. Monopolies are thus characterized by a lack of economic competition to produce the good or service and a lack of viable substitute goods."

    Also from Wikipedia:

    "Monopolies derive their market power from barriers to entry -- circumstances that prevent or greatly impede a potential competitor's ability to compete in a market."

    Please enlighten us with your definition of a monopoly and why it isn't applicable to this situation.

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur