ERIC Number: EJ847224
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Jun-15
Reference Count: 0
A Calculating Web Site Could Ignite a New Campus "Math War"
Young, Jeffrey R.
Chronicle of Higher Education, v55 n39 Jun 2009
The long-running debate over whether students should be allowed to wield calculators during mathematics exams may soon seem quaint. The latest dilemma facing professors is whether to let students turn to a Web site called WolframAlpha, which not only solves complex math problems, but also can spell out the steps leading to those solutions. In other words, it can instantly do most of the homework and test questions found in many calculus textbooks. The new tool will be a bane to teaching, some professors say--but others see a blessing. WolframAlpha was created by Stephen Wolfram, an entrepreneur who invented Mathematica, one of the first computer math engines. His new site debuted last month to much media fanfare and, like Google, provides answers to questions typed into a simple search box. It is free and already boasts millions of searches. But unlike Google, WolframAlpha features a supercharged math engine based on the Mathematica software used by many researchers. It makes a graphing calculator look like a slide rule. Such math engines--they're called "computer algebra systems"--are not new. But they usually cost hundreds of dollars and involve a steep learning curve. The goal of WolframAlpha is to bring high-level mathematics to the masses, by letting users type in problems in plain English and delivering instant results. As a result, some professors say the service poses tough questions for their classroom policies. Mr. Wolfram said that Mathematica raised similar debates when it was released, but he argues that computer-algebra systems improve education because they allow students to explore complex problems on their own, and to intuitively determine how functions work rather than simply learn rote processes.
Descriptors: Mathematics Education, Graphing Calculators, Calculus, Algebra, Computation, Search Engines, Web Sites
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
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