Roanoke College Context
1. What is the status of Quantitative Reasoning programming on your campus?
In the past our Quantitative Reasoning programming has been limited to a distribution requirement - students simply took a certain number of math and science courses. However, we have just adopted a new general education curriculum that has a much broader place for QR. In addition to a year-long freshman seminar and a capstone course, this curriculum contains seven divisional Perspectives courses, each of which addresses a disciplinary topic within the context of a global, western, or natural world perspective. Each of these courses must include work in writing and in either oral communication or QR. Students take two of these courses from the humanities, two from the social sciences, and three (total) from math and the sciences. This curriculum addresses QR in two important ways. Most obviously, it makes a place for QR across the curriculum, outside of the usual math and science courses. But it also transforms the math and science courses by giving them focus and context so that the skills that they introduce connect to other elements in the curriculum. Thus, we have an opportunity to transform the way we do QR in all areas.
2. What are the key learning goals that shape your current programming or that you hope to achieve?
The Roanoke College Goals for Liberal Learning, which are central to our new curriculum, include developing "the ability to construct understand and evaluate arguments that use quantitative reasoning." This goal is carried into the following learning goals for the Perspectives courses: To build students' skills at thinking rationally, analyticall, and creatively, so they can reflectively pose and answer questions, reliably assess information, and effectively solve problems To enhance students' ability to consider a topic in depth, evaluate and synthesize information, organize ideas, and make cogent arguments. To strengthen students' ability to use at least two of the following critical reasoning modes as tools of thought through which they arrive at greater and more accurate knowledge: writing, oral communication, and quantitative reasoning. Although QR is addressed most directly in the third goal, it can play an important role in the first two goals as well.
3. Do you have QR assessment instruments in place? If so, please describe:
Not really. The newly adopted curriculum described above will become effective for students entering in Fall 2009. Our current curriculum requires that students take courses in math and science, for which we have basic assessment instruments (goals/outcomes/criteria), but makes no attempt to implement QR more broadly or in context. Nevertheless, we are well positioned to move forward on QR assessment. We recognize the importance of building meaningful assessment into the new curriculum from the start, and are addressing this in all of our course and program development efforts. We are part of a five-institution consortium funded by the Teagle Foundation to assess integrative and intentional learning, and our rich collaborations under this grant have both informed our work in assessment and raised its visibility on campus. We are also hiring a new Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment; this person will provide support at the institutional level. We will have a significant campus focus on assessment from other areas as well as we prepare for our upcoming SACS review in 2012.
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 newly adopted curriculum is intended to encourage QR and oral communication, while providing enough flexibility for faculty to incorporate skills that work well in their classes. One concern is that we will not branch out far enough from where we are now, that the math and science courses and the social science courses that focus on data analysis will incorporate QR, and the other social science courses and the humanities courses will incorporate oral communication. But this will not provide the integration and contextualized learning that we want to accomplish with our new curriculum. We need to work to incorporate both QR and oral communication more broadly across the curriculum, so that students see them not as compartmentalized skills but as truly permeating their intellectual experience. Another concern is our previous lack of QR programming. Writing across the curriculum has been widely discussed on campus and there has been substantial faculty development for it, but QR has been seen as the purview of the math and science departments. Faculty in other disciplines who may be receptive to incorporating QR into their classes have had no formal support for developing or trying related ideas. Furthermore, we don't know yet what support to provide; this is uncharted territory for our faculty development team as well. Much progress is needed in this area, but we hope to build on what we learn from this workshop and other sources to provide major faculty development efforts in support of QR over the next few years as we implement the new curriculum.
5. Considering your campus culture, what opportunities or assets will be available to support your QR initiatives?
Our faculty have shown a great willingness to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries to provide integrated and contextualized learning opportunities. Four years ago we began a Writing Initiative Grant program in which faculty outside of English received year-long training in teaching writing (and a sizeable stipend) in return for a promise to teach three offerings of the first-year writing course. This program has been very successful; this fall more than half of our first-year writing courses will be taught by non-English faculty, and we are well-positioned both in training and in culture to move to a curriculum that truly incorporates writing across the curriculum. Our QR initiatives are a natural extension of this writing program. While faculty will not be trained to teach introductory math classes, they will be learning to embed skills and strategies from other disciplines into their courses. Furthermore, the PKal workshop emphasis on integrating writing and QR meshes perfectly with our current initiatives, and given our new curriculum will have applications for faculty in all disciplines. Another asset is our culture of high quality faculty development; our faculty are accustomed to participating in institutional programs that encourage them to explore new pedagogical areas. In addition, we recently received a FIPSE grant to create sustainable faculty development programs in support of integrative learning. We are using these funds to develop programs that will help our faculty realize and sustain the goals of our new curriculum, including those relating to QR.