National Numeracy Network > QRurrent Events > Past Events > NSF Numeracy Projects Supporting QL in Education > NSF-Supported Project Profiles > Pathway to Quantitative Literacy in the Social Sciences Pathway to Quantitative Literacy in the Social Sciences

George Alter, P.I. (University of Michigan)
Bill Frey, Co-P.I. (University of Michigan & Brookings Institute)
Lynette Hoelter (University of Michigan)
John Paul DeWitt (University of Michigan)

Funding provided by NSF National Science Digital Libraries grant for the project period 11/1/08 - 10/31/11.

For more Information

COMING SOON! is scheduled to launch in Fall 2009.
For questions about the project, please contact lhoelter at

Summary logo will be a virtual repository of educational materials designed to improve quantitative literacy skills for students in social science courses. Built especially for faculty teaching post-secondary courses in such areas as demography, economics, geography, political science, social psychology, and sociology, will provide a single portal with comprehensive links to teaching modules, data sources, applications for statistics and data visualization (e.g., mapping and graphing), and related research on quantitative literacy in teaching and learning. Extensive, search able metadata relevant to the needs of instructors will make finding resources easy. Although targeted at social science courses, the data-driven learning modules and data sources might be of interest substantively or as examples for other disciplines.

Project Goals

The overarching project goal is to make it easier for faculty to bring real social science data into courses across the curriculum ranging from introductory classes to senior seminars. Specifically, we aim to:
  • improve quantitative literacy among students in undergraduate social science courses, thereby exposing them to the creativity and excitement of empirical research and minimizing the disconnect often felt between substantive courses and research methods/statistics;
  • assist instructors in the development of content by developing resource collections that support discovery of teaching materials, pedagogic resources, data sources, and data analysis and visualization tools;
  • create tools that support discovery and extraction of data subsets of high utility for teaching;
  • develop a community of faculty and librarians who use such resources and may be able to contribute to the collection;
  • collaborate with the National Science Digital Libraries, other libraries, and service providers as a representative of the social science fields.

Project Design/Elements

The project design has four major parts.
1. Creation of a virtual repository for quantitative literacy in the social sciences including:
  • Cataloged data-driven learning modules (DDLMs). These standalone activities typically include or point to pre-packaged data or tables and are often used to teach a particular social science concept. DDLMs will be linked to materials in the Pedagogy in Action portal.
  • Links to important and interesting data sources in the social sciences (e.g., Census Bureau and ICPSR). These resources currently exist, including them in the repository will save time for instructors as they will not need to search each individual website.
  • Pedagogical resources such as journal articles and conference presentations (when available online) related to using data in the classroom or quantitative literacy.
  • Data analysis and visualization tools. When possible, documentation will be created to help instructors take advantage of these tools.
2. Design tools to simplify the process of locating, downloading, manipulating, and using data for classes. As part of this effort, some focus will be put on repackaging the American Community Survey, an important data source in the social sciences, so that using it with students becomes more straightforward.

3. Building community within the social sciences. Representatives from the major social science professional associations will assist the project by serving on an Advisory Board and topical editorial committees. In addition, Web 2.0 features will be used to build community among users. The main features discussed to date include the ability to tag, rate, and comment on materials as well as the creation of forums (blogs, community bulletin boards) for discussion among instructors. Finally, outreach for the project is designed to take place through papers, workshops, and exhibits presented at professional meetings as well as a series of Webinars on topics of interest to those using data in the classroom.

4. Creation of tools for developing additional data-driven learning modules. This set of tools will make it easier for instructors to create their own data-driven learning modules. Templates/guides for writing materials in the style of existing modules in the Social Science Data Analysis Network and ICPSR's Online Learning Center, a search capability to for identifying datasets in the ICPSR collection that include a certain combination of variables, and tools to match data with analysis and visualization applications will all make the process of creating DDLMs easier.

As of this posting (5/1/09), we are working on developing the infrastructure of the virtual repository, discovering teaching resources with which to populate it, and creating metadata records for each resource as well as organizing the Advisory Board and sample of campuses for evaluation. We expect the first version of to launch in Fall 2009.

Evaluation and Assessment Strategies

The evaluation for this project will center around approximately ten focal campuses. We will ask for the assistance of ICPSR's Official Representatives on a diverse sample of campuses to collect both formative and summative feedback. A combination of surveys, focus groups, and analysis of Web-metrics will allow for evaluation of the scope and utility of the resource collections, satisfaction with the interface design and Web 2.0 features, the utility and usability of tools for discovering and extracting data from data sources, and the design and content of workshops and Webinars. Additionally, the behaviors of a sample of social science faculty on the ten campuses will be examined to determine reach and penetration of, potential changes in the availability of resources to target users due to the introduction of the repository (are the collections comprehensive enough to satisfy the needs of many users?), and whether faculty report an increase in use of data in the classroom to support quantitative literacy.

A partner project, funded by NSF under the CCLI mechanism, focuses on the assessment of quantitative literacy skills and the impact of materials such as those in the Social Science Data Analysis Network on students' achievement of intended learning outcomes relating to quantitative literacy.

Products, Key Findings, Publications

We are in the first six months of our project, so there are no project publications yet. However, related publications include:

Related or Similar Projects