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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How the Outdated TI-84 Plus Still Holds a Monopoly On Classrooms 359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How the Outdated TI-84 Plus Still Holds a Monopoly On Classrooms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 afidel ( 530433 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @08:58AM (#47824277)

    Forget the 86, the NSPIRE is allowed on all major standardized tests and it's worlds better than any of the 8x calcs, and the CAS model is allowed on everything but the IB and ACT (and honestly unless you can't get a decent score on the SAT or live in a state that requires the ACT for instate scholarships there's not a ton of reason to take it). It's what I bought my son, I figured why waste $150 on an ancient platform that won't help him much in his last 2 years of high school math when I could spend $125 on the black and white NSPIRE CAS and he'd be set for his entire academic career.

  • by germansausage ( 682057 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:01AM (#47824295)

    Because no smart teenager would ever find a way to fake exam mode. PKI notwithstanding, it just needs to fool a high school teacher. We hand wired fake reset switches into our HP-41CVs back when,

  • R? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:13AM (#47824395)

    when the R cow is free?

    Why use a convoluted language like R when you can use Python?

  • by Scootin159 ( 557129 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:16AM (#47824411) Homepage

    Or if a competitor made such a hypothetical $25 replacement for the TI-84/86, schools could just standardize on the new model. The argument for not switching to Casio, etc. right now is that younger siblings typically get their older siblings hand-me-downs, but if the replacement model was only $25, that argument would loose a lot of weight.

    Although with the Ti's current tenure, they're now getting into the range where there's likely students using their grandfather's hand-me-down calculator in class. I know students were using their parent's hand-me-down Ti calculators when I was in school.... and I'm old enough now to have kids of my own in school

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:38AM (#47824615)

    There should have been an opportunity for some competitor (e.g. Casio or HP) to use 2014 technology to deliver the same capabilities

    It should be noted that this is very difficult to do, because many modern math textbooks are actually built around the assumption that students are using TI-84's. I took an algebra course a couple of years ago at a local college and every example in the text actually used illustrations and instructions on how to do the graphing on a TI-84 specifically. So unless the competitor could copy the look, functionality, and layout of a TI-84 exactly (and I'm sure that would get them sued), profs and instructors would be inundated with "But how do I do that on my Casio?" questions that they aren't going to want to deal with. And so they would probably still make the TI-84 a requirement for the course, just to avoid that hassle.

  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:49AM (#47824735)

    In my university, you have one allowed calculator, and you still had to pay to get a sticker to let the exam procs know that "yes, this calculator is allowed"

    I guess I understand this stuff for standardized tests somewhat, but what sort of crap is this for university exams? If your exam can be thwarted by just having a slightly more powerful graphing or programmable calculator, your exam is probably not testing very much.

    When I was an undergrad, most exams in advanced science and engineering classes allowed you to bring ANYTHING as long as it didn't involve communication with people outside the room. Forget about just calculators (ANY calculator), some people would be STACKS of textbooks, and I even remember some laptops (though those were less common back then -- largescale wireless also didn't quite exist yet).

    When I first had a test like this, I packed a pile of books too, along with whatever calculator I had (I think a TI-85), etc. But I quickly realized that most of this was useless. In the limited time we had, if I didn't already know the stuff, I'm not going to have time to learn it from a book.

    And the tests always had complex questions designed to test your ability to confront new types of problems (and to often present symbolic answers with your work, not just some final numerical output from a calculator, nor even some symbolic answer spit out by Mathematica, even if you had a laptop), so even if you had somehow programmed your calculator to output a numerical answer and handle every problem you had encountered in the class so far, you'd still have to have some pretty serious critical thinking skills to do well.

    If the only thing standing between you and an A on exams is having a "non-stickered" slightly more "advanced" piece of crap calculator built on 20-year-old technology to do your exams with, that course is probably not asking very much of its students.

  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Thursday September 04, 2014 @10:12AM (#47824973)

    So unless the competitor could copy the look, functionality, and layout of a TI-84 exactly (and I'm sure that would get them sued)

    I wonder if the TI-84 is enough of a standard that an argument could be made that copying is necessary for the sake of interoperability?

Behind every great computer sits a skinny little geek.