Trinity College Context
1. What is the status of Quantitative Reasoning programming on your campus?
In the spring of 2005 Trinity enjoyed an extensive quantitative literacy (QL) program that had been developed over the previous ten years and included the following components: a QL requirement for all students, established by the faculty in 1986; an in-house QL exam that assessed student performance in four areas: numerical, statistical, algebraic and logical relationships; a QL foundations course and laboratory Contemporary Applications: Math for the 21st Century, by which students weak in all or three of the four areas could meet this requirement; three half-semester, specialized QL courses to address weaknesses in one of the three areas of statistical, algebraic or logical relationships; two second-tier QL courses, Visually Displaying Data: Graphical Literacy and Mathematics of Equity, a QL/Science course, Skepticism and Belief, and a first year seminar, Fallacies for Fun and Profit; nine QL-enriched courses across the disciplines, supported by grants from the Dean of Faculty's office and the National Numeracy Network, and including courses in political science, history, human rights, sociology, ecology, music, and classics; a peer-tutoring program held five afternoons and evenings a week providing quantitative support for courses through third-semester calculus. However, at an all-campus meeting in December 2004, newly installed Trinity President Jimmy Jones informed the college community of the dire financial situation in which the college found itself. At the end of spring semester of 2005 the Math Center lost a full time faculty position. At the end of spring 2006 we lost a second full time position, and the acting dean decided to use student SAT results to determine QL status, rather than administering the QL exam. All students whose SAT scores fell below a certain threshold were to meet the requirement by taking the QL foundations course. Other paths through the requirement were eliminated. In spring 2007 Trinity's quantitative literacy program underwent an outside review. The reviewers were vehement in distinguishing between the skills tested on the SAT exam and those desirable for QL, and strongly advocated that a revised QL exam be reinstated. The new Dean of Faculty appointed a Trinity committee to examine the reviewers' recommendations during the spring of 2008, and advise her as to an appropriate response. As a result, we now have a reinstated exam (to be discussed more thoroughly in question #3), and three additional QL courses besides Contemporary Applications by which students can meet the QL requirement: Visually Displaying Data: Graphical Literacy, Mathematics of Equity, and Mathematics of Art and Architecture. The First Year Seminar will be offered this fall. In addition, we have been encouraged to plan for the return of one full-time position in fall 2009 to replace some of the cobbled-together adjunct TUs. The committee recommended the restoration of the position to enable Center faculty to extensively revise and update our foundations course and work with Trinity faculty in a reinvigorated QL program.
2. What are the key learning goals that shape your current programming or that you hope to achieve?
To the learning goals stated in QUIRK's example response, I would add the more nebulous, but essential disposition or habit of mind, to use QUIRK's nine outcomes naturally throughout one's encounters with the world, in classes at Trinity and perhaps more importantly in the wide world beyond. A quantitatively literate person looks at the numbers: in The New York Times, in an analysis of costs of the First World War, in population estimates in the Americas before 1492, as a source of information as rich as the text. This is the issue of "transferability" that plagues every educator. We have tried to instill this habit by making the creation of a notebook of examples from media and other sources a part of our QL courses. These student notebooks also contain student analyses of the examples, which range from the illogic of a political speech to misleading graphs and misuse of percentages. The positive feedback from students supports the extra work this involves for the instructor. This student comment from the graphical literacy course is typical: I sincerely believe it will be one of the few classes I take at Trinity that will be useful in five years time. We would like to work with colleagues at the workshop to improve the rubrics we have developed for grading these notebooks and amplify their value as an assessment instrument.
3. Do you have QR assessment instruments in place? If so, please describe:
In question #1 I addressed the recent history of the QL exam at Trinity. The dean's Math Center Advisory Committee that met throughout the spring semester confirmed our determination of four major areas to be assessed and critiqued new questions that Charlotte Gregory and I submitted. In particular, the committee approved reducing the number of questions from 60 to 40, eliminating any language that could be regarded as technical while increasing the number of context-driven questions. David Reuman, Associate Professor of Psychology, and along with Charlotte and myself a member of the committee, did an item analysis of the exams from a sample of 37 students who were persuaded to take the new test during the spring semester. This summer he performed a second analysis of exam results for 256 students who attended June orientation sessions for incoming students and took a revised exam that incorporated information from the preliminary analysis. David, Charlotte and I are eager to continue our major revision of the exam, using information and expertise at the Carleton workshop. We would also like to consider what further and alternative assessment we could add to this trial instrument and plan for effective and manageable post-testing.
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?
Our dean of faculty has taken as one of her first initiatives the creation of a writing-intensive curriculum. Financial resources at the college, already limited are being used to extend writing into courses across the disciplines. One of the issues proposed for discussion at the workshop is compiling sources and strategies for securing grant funding for QL programs. That is certainly one of the issues I will check for discussion!
5. Considering your campus culture, what opportunities or assets will be available to support your QR initiatives?
A challenge can become an opportunity. I think the best way for the Quantitative Center to launch a successful QL initiative at Trinity is to work to enlarge the scope of the writing initiative to include best methods of presenting quantitative information in writing assignments. I want to continue to investigate effective techniques for incorporating data and graphical information into written material and argument, with the aim of creating workshops for those faculty whose students need to be able to write cogently about data. A longer-term goal is the creation of a course: Arguing with Numbers that would combine the best of the Center's Logic in the Media course with graphical analysis and a careful discussion of how best to incorporate and refer to quantitative information in written work. In the last year the dean of faculty has created a Center for Teaching and Learning at the college, and one of the founding co-directors has asked me to give a QL presentation and workshop to faculty in the spring. This will be an opportunity to inform faculty about QL at Trinity as well as to present specific ideas and examples of how the QL program can strengthen their students' work and writing. The aegis of the newly formed Center may encourage the attendance and involvement of new faculty and faculty not yet in the QL fan club.