Bates College Context
1. What is the status of Quantitative Reasoning programming on your campus?
Bates College launched a new general education curriculum in the Fall of 2007 that requires each student to take one course in quantitative literacy and one course in scientific reasoning among other requirements. Here is the text of the requirement: Scientific Reasoning Laboratory Experience and Quantitative Literacy. Students successfully complete three distinct courses: (1) one course that includes a regularly scheduled laboratory component (in the laboratory or in the field) i.e. an "L" section; (2) one Scientific Reasoning course which may or may not have a laboratory component; (3) one course in quantitative literacy. "L", "S", and "Q" courses can be proposed by departments, programs, or individual faculty members with the approval of their departments or programs. They must be certified by the Scientific Reasoning and Quantitative Literacy Committee which will be newly formed for this purpose. In addition, Bates has a Math and Statistics Workshop and a Writing Workshop. The Math and Statistics Workshop assists students with course work that involves math and statistics and is staffed by a Director. The Writing Workshop is staffed by four professionals who assist student with writing and specialize in specific areas such as creative writing, scientific writing, etc. In January of 2007, the Bates College Imaging and Computer Center (BCICC) opened with generous support from the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (ME INBRE) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for equipment, and from the George I Alden Trust and the Booth Ferris Foundation for facilities renovations. The BCICC is a multidisciplinary facility dedicated to enhancing visual thinking and communication including the graphical representation of quantitative information within the Bates College community. The Center and its two full-time staff members support the academic and scholarly work of students, faculty, and staff by enhancing their ability to create, use, and interpret images, and to perform computation intensive tasks. With a Steering Committee that includes faculty and staff from disciplines across the campus, the BCICC is a great example of cross fertilization, and of Bates' commitment to creating action out of opportunity.
2. What are the key learning goals that shape your current programming or that you hope to achieve?
The following excerpt from the faculty legislation of our new General Education curriculum expresses it well: "One of the goals of a liberal education in the arts and sciences is to help students develop an understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge, especially the interplay between observations and theories and the process through which scientific knowledge progresses. Making one's own measurements and observations and then analyzing and communicating the results are crucial to this understanding. The required lab component (L courses) provides this hands-on experience. The quantitative requirement achieves the goal of helping students develop the ability to understand quantitative information and to make informed judgments accordingly. Scientific Reasoning (S) courses are those courses which further students' understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge, of the inductive character of scientific reasoning, the desirability of scientific theories that unify a broad range of observations, and the extent to which the reliability of conclusions is influenced by the quality of those observations. These courses are drawn predominantly from the natural sciences. Quantitative Literacy (Q) courses are those courses that teach students to understand and evaluate quantitative arguments and that help them develop the ability to apply quantitative skills to solve problems in multiple contexts. Quantitative literacy is not the same as knowledge of mathematics. Quantitative literacy is anchored in context and is data-based. Mathematics is less context-specific and is symbol-based. Quantitative literacy is a habit of mind usable in and across many fields.
3. Do you have QR assessment instruments in place? If so, please describe:
While in the past, assessment at Bates often occurred as a response to individual office needs, and had little campus-wide orchestration, the College has recently begun to ramp up efforts to build assessment into its projects. To support these activities, the President formed the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment in March of 2008. One large component of this new office is the assessment of General Education, including our S, L, and Q course requirements. It is our fervent hope that through participation in this workshop and similar other workshops we will be able to develop systematic assessment here at Bates.
4. Considering your campus culture, what challenges or barriers do you anticipate in implementing or extending practices to develop and assess QR programming on your campus?
The largest barriers will be faculty time and convincing faculty that time they commit to assessment will be well invested. In order for us to implement useful assessment, we will need to spend time with faculty to learn about the assessment they are already doing, and work with them to develop specific shared goals that apply across departments. Faculty may be unaware of the value of assessment, may assume that it must be burdensome to be effective, and therefore fear that the cost will outweigh the benefits. With teaching research and committee service, some faculty may find it difficult to make time to talk about the Q and R assessment. It will be a challenge to convince faculty that their role in assessment is critical, and that assessment is a valuable component of faculty development. While external pressure from accrediting and granting agencies moves assessment to a higher level of priority within the institution it will be most useful and helpful if it is a collaborative effort.
5. Considering your campus culture, what opportunities or assets will be available to support your QR initiatives?
Faculty are very responsive to opportunities for faculty development so any ideas we can bring to Bates that provide faculty development will be useful. Also, faculty approved legislation which values student exposure to Q and R courses and the assessment of the programming. We have had great success in implementing a new writing program and marrying faculty development and assessment in that implementation. Close to half of our faculty participated in one or more of three opportunities to look at student writing last May. While faculty were determining their values for writing at Bates they were simultaneously learning about how they write assignments, grade papers, and provide feedback to the students. Our faculty reported that they found these workshops informative, insightful, and invigorating. Because of the faculty commitment to professional development, and the link between professional development and assessment, we believe that the Quantifying Quantitative Reasoning in Undergraduate Education: Alternative Strategies for the Assessment of Quantitative Reasoning Workshop will help us develop ideas and strategies that will be well received by our faculty. Support from the President and the Vice President for Academic Affairs is a huge asset, and our upcoming NEASC accreditation (Fall 2010) puts some external pressure on us to have a Q and R assessment in place.