University of Queensland Context
1. What is the status of Quantitative Reasoning programming on your campus?
In 2006, our Bachelor of Science program underwent a major curriculum review, which resulted in a new science curriculum (http://www.bacs.uq.edu.au/review-introduction). This review was in many ways guided by the principles outlined in Bio2010. Several findings from the review pointed towards a deficit in our students quantitative abilities and their exposure to learning activities explicitly aimed at enhancing their quantitative reasoning (QR) in the existing curriculum. As a result, a new science curriculum was approved in 2007, which is taking a more holistic approach to curriculum development that better integrates QR across all levels of the degree program. Before further description of our new science curriculum is provided, the context of our university should be stated. The University of Queensland (UQ) is one of the oldest universities in Australia and the oldest in the state of Queensland. UQ is a research-intensive institution that offers both undergraduate and post-graduate programs to over 37,000 students currently. In the last decade, the university has carved out a niche in scientific research in Australia, opening four dedicated research Institutes, resulting in a greater international reputation for UQ. While our scientific research has developed tremendously, our education of undergraduate science students was becoming increasingly out-dated and enrolments in the physical sciences has been declining. We currently have over 3000 undergraduates studying in a science degree program at UQ. In the sciences at UQ the culture of our academic staff revolves around research and to a lesser extent, teaching. We are happy to note that this culture is shifting to a better balance between research and teaching. For example, UQ has won more national teaching awards than any other university in Australia and we have recipients of the Prime Minister's teaching excellence award on staff. In Australia, quality assurance policies and regulations at the national level are beginning to have an impact on universities but this is not as pronounced as the situation in the United States. Universities in Australia do enjoy high-levels of autonomy. Several profession degree programs, like engineering, have accrediting bodes that guide the undergraduate curriculum, but in the sciences we do not have such a body. The point is that in our BSc, there is no external body that directs curriculum development and no strong national-level policies influencing our decisions. Instead, we are directed by our own professional judgement, examples of international best-practise, and the requirements of research and industry both now and in the future. We are motivated by our desire to produce the highest-quality science graduates in Australia who can be globally competitive. Accordingly, we recognise that future scientists will require greater QR and better interdisciplinary understanding within science. Largely, we will self-regulate (given the absence of accrediting bodies in science), and a key element of this regulation is assessing QR in our students, which will in turn inform teaching practice. At UQ, we are fortunate in having strong support at both the highest levels of administration and also from our academic staff. While we might debate the best means for enhancing QR in our science students, there is very broad agreement that our new curriculum with an increased emphasis on QR is the right way forward. This high-level support and academic staff buy-in affords us great opportunities to develop and implement an effective QR assessment framework. We are in an excellent position to move forward in this way in science at UQ and we believe that other areas in our university will be keen to learn from out experience and strengthen QR in their degree programs. Where we are now: One completed semester of our new first-level courses, with evaluation data; First iteration of a new interdisciplinary "cornerstone" course that applies mathematics and computing across various scientific disciplines, with a range of evaluation data (course profile available at https://www.courses.uq.edu.au/student_section_loader.php?section=1&profileId=17865 ). Next semester marks the first time that all science students must complete a statistics course (this is a well-established course that was taken as an elective in the past, details at https://www.courses.uq.edu.au/student_section_loader.php?section=1&profileId=17424 ) . We are in the progress of developing second and third level courses (which are more specialised) that build on the QR embedded in first level, which will roll out in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
2. What are the key learning goals that shape your current programming or that you hope to achieve?
Key learning goals associated with the quantitative aspects of our revised BSc are to: introduce students to the interdisciplinary nature of modern science; instil an appreciation of the quantitative skills required for the practice of modern science, regardless of discipline; help students gain an appreciation of the importance of modelling in science, and to develop their abilities to formulate, analyse, apply and refine such models; improve students' mathematical, statistical and computational skills in the context of scientific problems and issues; involve students in analysis of some "big picture" issues in science along with quantitative skills and knowledge required to analyse these issues; assist students in developing their ability to communicate responses to quantitative and science-based problems in a correct, logical and scientifically appropriate style, for both expert and non-expert audiences; help students understand and explain the nature of scientific data and the need for data management and statistical analysis; improve students' ability to identify and critically evaluate the role of data analysis and statistics in scientific research and publications.
3. Do you have QR assessment instruments in place? If so, please describe:
No although we planning to develop an assessment instrument to be administered in the final year of the BSc (the third year, as BSc degrees in Australia are 3 year programs). We are struggling with the extent to which this tool will have to be discipline specific versus a generic instrument - as the goal of the BSc is to better equip BSc students with QR. Our first year builds a QR foundation that will then be contextualised within the majors at the second and third level of the program. In the meantime, we have specific assessment tasks focused solely on assessing student scientific QR in two first level courses.
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?
We face several challenges, although we don't believe these are limited solely to our institution: 1. As a research intensive university, academic time is scarce. 2. We accept an increasingly diverse range of students in terms of academic ability career aspirations, age, etc. 3. We typically teach and assess in very large groups: most of our first year science courses have 500 to 1000 enrolments, and lecture classes typically contain 500 students. 4. Atomist approach: historically academic staff focus on a single course and not necessarily on how this course fits into a larger curriculum (although this is changing). 5. Large teaching teams: many science courses are delivered in a module approach with different academic staff teaching different modules: in some courses a student will encounter around 10 different teaching staff during semester. This can cause issues of coherence and connection across modules. 6. Many academic teaching staff have no formal training in education theory or practices (nor do they have an interest in educational theory): providing meaningful opportunities for academic staff development can be challenging
5. Considering your campus culture, what opportunities or assets will be available to support your QR initiatives?
We are in a prime position to gain support for a QR initiative. The BSc review and new curriculum have sparked a level of momentum and buy-in, which is unprecedented in science at UQ. We have resources and financial support from the top-levels with the University, and the goodwill of academic staff at the course-level. Additionally, this team has national networks through the Australia Learning and Teaching Council (formerly the Carrick Institute) allowing for wider impact than just UQ. The UQ culture is focussed on international collaborations as well, which this workshop can facilitate.