How Can Texas Instruments Adapt to Post-Tech-Monopoly Classrooms?

Bill Cosby has been right about a lot of things, but he might not have seen the future when he advertised the Texas Instruments TI-99 computer as "The One:"

I think I'm glad the TI-99 computer didn't become "The One," because when the TI-83 graphing calculator became "The One" for students, Texas Instruments showed they were all-too-happy to keep pushing that same basic technology for about the same price for 10+ years. Only when you have a tech monopoly can you resist that much change for so long.

Now I finally feel like TI is facing some real competition in the classroom. If I were them, I'd be developing and marketing smartphone apps that replicate the functionality of their calculators with one key feature: the ability for the user to put the app in "lock mode" which makes the device a dedicated calculator for a predetermined amount of time. I wouldn't worry about students cheating with their phones if I could see them trigger the lock mode at the beginning of a test and then prove to me at the end that the calculator app was the only app running the entire time. If TI could get that approved by the ACT and SAT, I think it's an app that students would gladly pay for.


  1. um what a great idea assuming it can be done and ruled legal for the big high stakes standardized tests ... I've had the same basic thoughts about TI for the last couple years ... but 'lock mode' is brilliant!

  2. If there was ever a company ripe for disruption it's TI and their hold on school calculators. I would hardly count them as "technology" anymore. Can't tell you how disgusted it makes me feel to have to buy a TI calculator for my kid in high school when her iPhone has dozens of better apps and orders of magnitude more computing power.

    Lock mode would be a nice bridge idea. A bit farther afield from your post though - a more general question would be that if the skills being tested can be solved trivially on a computing device - then are those useful skills to be teaching and assessing?

    1. Your question reminds me of a great quote from Freudenthal (1968):

      Systematization is a great virtue of mathematics, and if possible, the student has to learn this virtue, too. But then I mean the activity of systematizing, not its result. Its result is a system, a beautiful closed system, closed, with no entrance and no exit. In its highest perfection it can even be handled by a machine. But for what can be performed by machines, we need no humans. What humans have to learn is not mathematics as a closed system, but rather as an activity, the process of mathematizing reality and if possible even that of mathematizing mathematics.

      I feel like the debate over calculators in school mathematics has lingered on for the past 30 years without a whole lot of progress. Does the speed at which technology increases affect our ability to research its effectiveness? Or are we just too busy saying, "Ooo, shiny!" and telling ourselves, "Of course it's helpful - I paid $100 for it!" Then again, maybe we have made progress; I think we can look at the world around us and agree that many people know when it's best to use technology and when it's best not to use it. Drawing lines in the curriculum sand isn't so easy, and assessing the ability to use technology efficiently is certainly not a trivial thing. I guess what I'm saying is that I really don't know the answer to your question, although it certainly spawns a great debate (e.g., figuring out what's "trivial") and becomes ever-more-relevant as time and tech march on.