1. What is the status of Quantitative Reasoning programming on your campus?
Programming for Quantitative Reasoning at Middlebury College is in a preliminary but focused planning state. While interest in improving students' quantitative skills has been around for decades, over the past few years there has been increased awareness of the need for a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of quantitative ideas and methods. To this end there have been several important strategy sessions that included input from a wide range of voices at the college, including faculty, students, deans, learning specialists, librarians, and educational technologists. In March, 2007 a diverse group met to discuss the development of a comprehensive support system for improving the quantitative abilities of Middlebury students, and a number of critical issues were identified that helped to clarify the desired outcomes of such a program. For example, there is a persistent group of students who initially choose a major in the sciences but who, because of difficulty with mathematics, leave the sciences for a different major. A much more challenging group to identify are those students who right from the start avoid any major with a strong quantitative component. Beyond serving the needs of students in quantitatively oriented majors, there is broad agreement that all Middlebury students will benefit from improved quantitative reasoning ability. At present there is no QR requirement (except that the structure of general education distribution requirements more or less guarantees that a student will have to take at least one deductive reasoning or science course.) Overall, the sense of a wide range of constituents at the college is that an ethos of quantitative literacy should parallel the already well-established ethos of excellence in writing. As a first important step toward the development and support of QR at Middlebury, in June, 2008 the college established and hired a Director of Quantitative Support, who is charged with overseeing the development of QR programming at the college. As a member of Middlebury's Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research, the Director oversees all quantitative tutoring at the college, and is responsible for designing faculty development opportunities for QR programs and assessment. In her first two years, the Director has worked to develop a network of QR-minded faculty who are highly motivated and committed to improving student's quantitative reasoning abilities. She has also established a new Quantitative Analysis Lab, which we hope will become a vibrant center of activity for faculty and students working on quantitative projects.
2. What are the key learning goals that shape your current programming or that you hope to achieve?
The learning goals for QR programming at Middlebury are motivated by the college's mission and guiding principle, Knowledge Without Boundaries. Specifically, the mission statement asserts: We strive to engage student's capacity for rigorous analysis and independent thought within a wide range of disciplines and endeavors. Through the pursuit of knowledge unconstrained by national or disciplinary boundaries, students who come to Middlebury learn to engage the world. It is abundantly clear to many of us that in order to achieve the goals outlined in the mission, students need to develop their critical thinking skills, particularly when it comes to quantitative information:
They should be able to understand quantitative information presented in a variety of forms, such as graphs, tables, and abstracts, and be able to move comfortably from one representation to another;
They should be able to ask relevant questions about, construct hypotheses, and draw conclusions from data;
They should understand the uses, misuses, and abuses of quantitative information;
They should be able to communicate quantitative ideas clearly and appropriately.
Developing and adopting specific learning goals will require the input of a wide range of voices and will be a critical next step. We hope and expect that the ideas and experience we gain through participation at this workshop will provide us with valuable insight for this critical stage of Middlebury's QR program development.
3. Do you have QR assessment instruments in place? If so; please describe:
No, not yet.
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?
While improving student's quantitative reasoning abilities is not, in principle, controversial, the impact that a new academic initiative could have on existing programs is bound to cause concern, at least for some members of the college community. In particular, it is not clear that everyone will consider an ethos of quantitative literacy to be as important as an ethos of excellence in writing. Another likely hurdle is the relative lack of quantitative background of many faculty members themselves, especially in the humanities.
5. Considering your campus culture; what opportunities or assets will be available to support your QR initiatives?
Faculty development programs are presented by members of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research, along with other faculty and staff, and already receive strong support. This will be an important resource as we consider the possibility of QR in the discipline's courses and other approaches to quantitative learning and assessment. In addition, for a selection of students from the class of 2010, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research is conducting a pilot program of portfolio assessment of student writing in the disciplines. Funded through a Teagle Foundation Award, the program will allow a more comprehensive look at each of the students in the pilot, including interviews and other institutional data. Each such student portfolio will be examined at three critical stages in a student's career: as a first year student, making the transition from high school to college learner; as a second year student, just entering the major; and as a senior completing a capstone experience. This program will be an excellent opportunity to consider how writing in the disciplines can be used to develop and assess quantitative reasoning.