```NOTE: A later version of the following article appears as sec-
tion 8 in the paper "Eight Features of an Ideal Introductory
Statistics Course", which is available at

http://www.matstat.com/teach/```

```Subject: Computers vs. Calculators in Intro Stat

To: EdStat-L Statistics Education Discussion List,
ApStat-L Statistics Education Discussion List,
sci.stat.edu Usenet Newsgroup

From: Donald B. Macnaughton <donmac@matstat.com>

Date: Wednesday June 10, 1998

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(The following material is from a paper I shall present on August
12 at the Joint Statistical Meetings in Dallas.)

tors are important aids in the introductory statistics course.
These aids relieve teachers and students of the drudgery of sta-
tistical computations, enabling them to focus instead on statis-
tical concepts.  However, there is presently controversy among
teachers (especially high school teachers) about which is more
appropriate -- computers or hand calculators.

Note that computers and calculators are essentially the same de-
vices (i.e., computing devices) although they differ widely on
various properties.  Thus it is helpful to make a list of the
properties on which computers and calculators differ as an aid to
understanding the differences and as an aid to choosing the best
device for the introductory course.  Let us compare properties of
the popular TI-83 calculator from Texas Instruments with proper-
ties of a typical generic low-end non-portable computer system
containing, say, either ActivStats or the student version of
Minitab.  The following table lists some relevant properties and
their values:

Values of Properties of Two Computing Devices

----------------------------------------------------------------
Property     TI-83      Computer
----------------------------------------------------------------

screen size (pixels), which speaks to    96 x 64     800 x 600
the ability of the device to display
large bodies of text and detailed
statistical graphics

number of statistical procedures     lower        higher
available

ability to run integrated software     (none)        high
that actually *teaches* statistics

keyboard familiarity and ease of use      low          high
for new users

usefulness in real-world statistical      low          high
problems

printing available?   usually no   usually yes

ability to share information with     (none)        high
other software on the device

ability for students to use the     (none)        high
device for other functions (e.g.,
writing essays or Internet access)

color screen?       no          yes

space available for program and data      27 KB       300 MB+
storage*

programmability    severely    effectively
limited      unlimited

portability      high         low

permitted in examinations?   sometimes      usually
yes           no

cost      low          high
----------------------------------------------------------------
* KB = 1024 bytes, MB = million bytes.  The 300 MB is an estimate
and varies from computer to computer.

Note that computers lead the TI-83 by a substantial margin on all
but the last three properties, which I now discuss in turn.

First, (assuming that students have computer access at the loca-
tion where they study, a cost issue -- see below) the low port-
ability of fixed computers is not a serious disadvantage because
it is not necessary that students be able to perform statistical
computations "on the street".

Second, the fact that calculators are permitted in some examina-
tions is not a significant argument in favor of using calculators
during the term because the use of calculators in examinations
has little to do with the practical use of computers or calcula-
tors to solve real statistical problems -- it has only to do with
the decisions of examination designers.  (That is, the choice of
examination designers should not drive the choice of computing
device used during the term -- rather, the preferred device
should drive the choice of examination designers.)

Thus it appears that computers are superior to the TI-83 on all
important properties except the property of cost.  Thus it ap-
pears that computers are preferred to the TI-83 in all situations
in which the cost problem can be solved.

Finally, it is important to note that in situations in which the
cost problem *cannot* be solved, hand calculators such as the TI-
83 are a practical alternative since, although they are inferior
to computers, calculators are far better than nothing.  I look
forward to the day when all students can have the substantial