Does usage of calculator hinder learning in Math?

Prof. Melanie Allwine and Prof. Irene Foster (both at George Washington University) present this interesting paper at AEA-2014.

They say that calculators not just help people go through math without understanding it but also mask the math ability. They conduct a test amidst econ students in their Univ without calc and with calc to determine this finding. It so happens that SAT allows students to use calculators for their math exams and the scores become a basis to get into an econ program. So, if one relies on SAT score alone for math proficiency it might be misleading.

This also makes me come to a broader point (which authors do not discuss). There is this debate amidst students and faculties on whether one should be allowed to use calculators/laptops etc for learning these math/stats related concepts. The old school says they should not be allowed as students should go through the rigor as it will help them understand what is going “behind the scenes”. The new school says why should we waste time learning all this when calc/computers does all the work in fraction of the time. Instead that time should be spent on doing the analysis etc.

A balance has been difficult to maintain. But one thing is happening for sure (atleast to me). The constant use of these machines does make the mind lazy to do things on your own. So even for simple things one is now either googling or using the calc to figure..These tools have become shortcuts and short cuts seldom help..

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