University of Massachusetts-Boston Context
1. What is the status of Quantitative Reasoning programming on your campus?
In 1998, our Faculty Council agreed to a new General Education program. A key component of the "first-year experience" in this program was a Math/QR requirement. All students had to demonstrate a quantitative reasoning ability, although this ability is somewhat loosely interpreted. BS and business students, for example, must take Calculus to meet their requirement (except for BS in Nursing students who take Statistics). Most BA students have several choices: they can take Statistics and waive the requirement (and also get math distribution credit); they can take College Algebra (a very traditional course) or the Quantitative Reasoning course; or they can place into (but not take) any course at the level of Pre-Calculus or above. All students can transfer in the equivalent course to meet the requirement. The requirement was fully implemented in 2002. One result is that the number of sections of Statistics and Quantitative Reasoning have grown; we now regularly offer 11 sections of the QR course each semester, with each course serving about 20 students. The QR course was envisioned as a course that could be offered by different departments on campus. The reality is that only the Mathematics Department offers the course, called Math 114Q. The topics covered include basic numeracy, descriptive statistics, visualizing data and constructing graphs, and the algebra of linear and exponential functions. The course is taught in a computer lab, equipped with new Mac computers, and Excel and the web are used fairly regularly. The intention of the course is that the topics should be data-driven, with real world applications whenever possible. The faculty teaching the course are primarily part-time faculty members from Academic Support, Philosophy, and Mathematics.
2. What are the key learning goals that shape your current programming or that you hope to achieve?
The QR courses must address the General Education learning capabilities, which include capabilities such as engaging in critical reading and analysis, reasoning logically and quantitatively, using technology to further education. More precisely students in the QR course should "demonstrate the ability to reason quantitatively and use formal systems to solve problems of quantitative relationships involving numbers, formal symbols, patterns, data, and graphs." In this course, students should: pose problems that involve quantitative relationships in real-world data by means of numerical, symbolic, and visual representations; solve problems, deduce consequences, formulate alternatives, and make predictions; apply appropriate technologies; and communicate and critique quantitative arguments orally and in writing. There is also topical knowledge that we expect students to learn. As described above, this includes basic numeracy, understanding uses and abuses of statistics, and understanding (and possibly creating) linear and exponential models. Less formally, the goal is that students should be able to critically read graphs and quantitative information from the newspaper.
3. Do you have QR assessment instruments in place? If so, please describe:
When our QR requirement was being planned in the late 1990s, a specific assessment plan for the QR course(s) was also developed. A committee was formed to oversee this assessment and this committee (the Quantitative Reasoning Assessment Committee or QuAC) has modified the assessment plan over time, most recently after one of the committee members participated in the 2003 PKAL assessment workshop at Duke. It's important to note that this assessment ONLY addresses the QR course. The other ways of meeting the requirement are not assessed, and the only assessment in those courses consists of the standard Math Department evaluations. The main parts of the QR assessment are: A student questionnaire (separate from the Mathematics Department's course evaluation), consisting of about 15 - 20 questions. Most of them are multiple choice, with some short answer questions. This questionnaire collects some background data (where the students went to high school, previous math courses and technology experience), surveys students on aspects of the course structure (time spent on topics, tutoring, use of technology), and tries to get feedback about their progress in using and understanding quantitative information. There are some short answer questions mostly asking about "best" and "worst" aspects of the course. Holistic grading of common final exam questions from a representative sample of students in each section. These questions (about 5 or 6 each semester) are written with the learning outcomes in mind and they also address the main topics of the course. An evaluation of portfolios of student work, along with syllabi, exams and other handouts from a sample of QR faculty. Ideally new faculty are evaluated for the first two semesters of teaching the course while other QR faculty are evaluated on a periodic basis. Feedback is given in the form of a standard template letter. When necessary, follow-up happens through classroom observation and mentoring, workshops on teaching and learning, and discussion with the instructor. We feel that it is time to assess the assessment. Our approach to assessment has some very good and useful aspects, but it is hard to implement (see below) and it's not clear that the time spent is really worth it in terms of the information that we receive.
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 fundamental issues are people and time. QuAC has dwindled in size to three people, all of whom have many other responsibilities and obligations. Our campus has experienced waves of retirements (without sufficient replacement hiring) and has shifted from a teaching-focused institution to one that, more and more, emphasizes research and grants. While teaching is certainly still valued service of this type tends to be the province of the tenured faculty rather than the newer faculty. Here are some specific issues with our current assessment tools: The student questionnaire has been used for over ten years (in various forms) and it's not clear that we really need all of the information that we collect. On a more practical level, we have not always been able to use an online version of the questionnaire. This means that the data have to be entered by hand (the math department has been very helpful in providing support for this recently) and the QR coordinator has to do the statistics. As a result feedback to the QR faculty is not always timely. Holistic grading of the final exams is also not always done in a timely manner. Several issues emerge here ranging from instructors who do not turn in the exams to the committee not being able to meet. And again, once the grading is done the statistics need to be compiled and distributed. We have not been able to read portfolios for about three years. While we have, on an informal basis, worked with faculty who are having issues with teaching, we do not have much real evidence (beyond the student questionnaires) of how our faculty are doing.
5. Considering your campus culture, what opportunities or assets will be available to support your QR initiatives?
Our campus culture is very supportive of assessment and student learning. The director of undergraduate studies position was recently moved to the Associate Provost level, and the current Associate Provost for undergraduate studies was one of the leaders in the move to the new General Education program and is a strong supporter of assessment. We have a new Dean of Science and Mathematics who is also very passionate about student learning and achievement and he has worked hard to understand our general education program and support our work with it. The Math Department has asked several times for a new hire to support the QR program including the assessment. The need is quite clear, but it's not clear when the funding for this will be there.