Main question: How do I, in a medium- to large-sized undergraduate class setting, appropriately and effectively discourage students from relying too heavily on calculators?
There have been several questions here about calculator usage (both in class and during exams) and its effects on student learning and understanding:
- Handing out $2 calculators for tests
- How does a reliance on calculators affect student performance?
- A study comparing effects of calculator usage on later math skills?
I don't want to rehash a discussion of whether or not calculator usage is effective for student learning, whether or not they should be allowed on exams, etc.
But the following posted question is very close to what I want to ask here: Student: Why not use a calculator?
That question has attracted a variety of thoughtful and, I believe, effective answers. However, because of the setup of the question and its "primary-education" tag, the answers are aimed at promoting effective mathematical thinking in young children, and most answers presume the educator is working one-on-one (or can at least speak to the student directly and hear their responses). Here is a summary of the points made by the top, accepted answer there:
(i) It is a matter of independence. (ii) You will be able to ballpark-verify outcomes. (iii) You can prevent being cheated. (iv) You are not asked to disavow your calculator.
Here are my questions:
- How can I adapt some of these techniques to, say, a 20- to 50-student basic algebra or pre-calculus course in an undergraduate college? I cringe every time I put some practice problems on the board and ask students to work on them, and immediately hear the sliding and locking of calculator covers and the rattling of keys, especially when I explicitly designed the questions to avoid needing any difficult arithmetic. Is this just a knee-jerk reaction on my part that I need to curb?
- Is it worthwhile to have a discussion with the class at large about this, or would it only be effective one-on-one anyway? That is to say, should I devote 5 or more minutes of class time to talking about calculator usage, or would it just be a waste of time? Should I only address this topic individually when I see students acting on their "addiction"?
- Is there a succinct and effective quote/saying/analogy that you have used to point out calculator overreliance? I want to say something like, "Why take the elevator to go up 3 stairs?", but this isn't quite the right sense, and I don't want to be insensitive. Do you have any better suggestions?
Ultimately, I'm wondering what to do with adult-aged students who likely should have some basic arithmetic skills, and surely do, but still seem to turn to their devices whenever any numbers appear. While they're in my courses and I have the opportunity to say something appropriate and effective about this issue ... what should I do/say?
(I would understand if this question is too similar to the one I linked above and is subsequently closed.)
A good answer here might include
- an effective saying or anecdote or presentation you tell to students about this, or
- a homework/exam policy that you have found to effectively dissuade students from unnecessarily reaching for a calculator, or
- a persuasive argument as to why I should just not care about this issue, that the students are "on their own" now,
or some combination thereof.