Asee peer logo

Comparing Student Performance Using Calculators With Performance Using Excel (Must You Know How To Ride A Horse If You Want To Drive A Car?)

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

New Topics in Engineering Economics

Tagged Division

Engineering Economy

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.338.1 - 11.338.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Charles Nippert Widener University

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Comparing Student Performance Using Calculators with Performance Using Excel (Must You Know How to Ride a Horse If You Want to Drive a Car?)


Our school offers a senior year course in engineering economics. For several years students have been allowed to take routine tests in this course by using either computers with (and) spreadsheet programs(s) or conventional interest tables and calculators. The tests are the same for both sets of students and have been constructed and graded in such a way as to render differences in performance between using spreadsheets or calculators statistically insignificant. There are however significant differences between the approaches used by students using spreadsheets and those used by students using calculators on the same questions. There are also differences in the sources of difficulty and error. This paper discusses these differences and the methodology used in creating and grading these tests. A final observation is that over a period of several years the use of spreadsheets has increased.


At our school, Engineering Economics is taught in a conventional classroom with several one hour examinations at regular class times during the semester. There is also a final examination that is also conducted in a regular classroom at the end of the semester. Starting in the Fall of 2001, the author allowed students to use laptops during in-class tests. Students who wanted to use laptops during a test could. Those who wanted to use their calculators could continue to use them. The course content was modified to include examples of both spreadsheet and calculator methods so that both computational approaches would be taught. Also, students were told that the FE requires calculators. This paper discusses how that change has impacted teaching engineering economics at our school.

Tests were graded by the instructor as normal after allowing laptops in class. After each test, the class was told the average grades of students using laptops and of students using calculators. From the test averages students knew there was no incentive from the standpoint of grades for the use of either tool. Laptop availability was not a problem because there were a number of laptops available from the university and, many students borrowed laptops from friends. All students who used laptops used the Excel spreadsheet so in this paper I use “computer solution” and “spreadsheet solution” interchangeably.

Allowing both the use of laptops AND calculators in the same test required some revision of the test procedures. Some important considerations regarding the nature of the test questions are:

1. All tests (hour quizzes and the Final Exam) were “open book, open notes”. This policy was already in place so that students could use the interest tables provided in the text. Because students already had access to notes and tables, the fact that the students could

Nippert, C. (2006, June), Comparing Student Performance Using Calculators With Performance Using Excel (Must You Know How To Ride A Horse If You Want To Drive A Car?) Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--331

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015