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Justin Cudmore

Wolfram|Alpha Goes to College

May 7, 2010 —
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Hello, fellow readers of the Wolfram|Alpha Blog—my name’s Justin. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the years I’ve found my own way of getting things done in regards to homework and studying routines. But this semester I realized there were tools available that would make studying and completing assignments easier and help me understand better. One tool that has become increasingly valuable in my routine and those of other students on my campus is Wolfram|Alpha. Recently, I was invited to share how Wolfram|Alpha is being used by students like myself.

Being a marketing major, I had to take some finance and accounting courses, but I was a bit rusty with the required formulas and the overall understanding of the cash flow concepts, such as future cash flows and the net present values of a future investment. A friend recommended I check out Wolfram|Alpha’s finance tools, and they’ve became indispensable in my group’s casework for the semester. Each proposed future investment we were met with, we would go directly to Wolfram|Alpha to compute the cash flows. We even went as far to show screenshots, such as the one below, of inputs and outputs in our final case presentation last week.

Net present value calculation in Wolfram|Alpha

I’ve met other students on my campus who have found Wolfram|Alpha to be helpful in their courses. A few months ago while studying in the library, I walked by a table of freshman students all using Wolfram|Alpha on their laptops. I decided to stop and chat with them because I knew one of the girls. They explained how they were using Wolfram|Alpha to model functions and check portions of their math homework. All three girls are enrolled in Calculus III, and not exactly overjoyed about the fact of future— and most likely harder—math classes.

Christin, one of the girls and a freshman at the University of Illinois, explained that they put this study group together and tend to meet once a week. She said, “I learned about Wolfram|Alpha from a friend last semester in class. It is very helpful in leading me in the right direction and by showing step-by-step processes on how to solve problems in my homework or just to check my answers. It has become a useful and valuable tool in completing my math homework. I love it!” Below is an example of the types of model functions they were working through in Wolfram|Alpha:

A model function in Wolfram|Alpha

My friend Kelsey is a senior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and an undergraduate assistant at the Writing Center. She explained how she uses Wolfram|Alpha many times per week while tutoring and collaborating with students on their papers. She finds that the word web and synonym network can be extremely useful in helping students vary their word choices.

“I usually hesitate to direct students to a thesaurus because they don’t always offer an appropriate synonym. In using Wolfram Alpha, however, I can avoid that problem by seeing the definition and synonym web all on the same page. In addition to being an excellent tool to recommend to students, I find that I use it in my own writing as well,” said Kelsey

Here’s one of Wolfram|Alpha’s words and linguistics examples:

Properties of the word "contest"

These are just a few examples of how college students like myself are using Wolfram|Alpha as a learning tool. Now that my college career is coming to an end, I look back and think about all of the cool ways I could have used Wolfram|Alpha in earlier courses. If you need some help getting started with Wolfram|Alpha, I’d suggest checking out some helpful posts that I’ve previously appreciated on this blog, such as “College is Hard. Wolfram|Alpha Makes It Easier”, “Chemistry 101 Review”, “Wolfram|Alpha for Astronomy”, “Consult Wolfram|Alpha for Your Next Writing Assignment”, and many more.


This thing seriously sucks! I get way better results from GOOGLE!

Posted by Tina May 8, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    if your’e looking for webpages go google if you want important things and solve things quickly, convert currencies, check date time, chemical things go here …
    You should learn how to differentiate the purpose of each search engine …

    Posted by Alexandre May 12, 2010 at 8:09 am

Wolfram|Alpha help the student solve any problem with her study, i use Wolfram|Alpha till now for my job

Posted by Education File May 8, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I have made some simple queries of W/A and received the message (I paraphrase) “We are working on this… please leave your email address…” So I am skeptical for now, but I will likely return in a few weeks to see if the site has progressed.

Posted by Beekeroo May 13, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Hi Beekeroo,
    Can you share a few of the attempted queries with us? We’d be happy to take a look. Thanks!

    Posted by The PR Team May 14, 2010 at 8:50 am

Something I’ve always wanted to see from W|A (in fact, I’ve sent it in as feedback several times) is an implied option volatility calculator (based on the Black-Scholes, of course).

It’d be indispensable for finance students and practitioners alike. It’s relatively simple to implement, so I’m surprised it hasn’t been put in already.

Posted by Carlo May 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm