Willamette University


1. What is the status of Quantitative Reasoning programming on your campus?

Beginning with a revision to our general education curriculum passed in 1998 and implemented in 1999, Willamette University has been requiring students to complete two quantitative courses (equivalent to 4 semester hours each) to fulfill a Quantitative Analysis(QA) requirement. At least one of these courses must be from a list of approved classes in which mathematics is the primary focus of the course; a list including traditional offerings within the Mathematics Department and Computer Science Department as well as Statistics courses offered by the Economics, Sociology, and Psychology Departments. The second course can either be a second class from this list, one from a separate list of courses in which quantitative reasoning plays a central role without being the primary focus of course content. This list includes a broad range of regular and one-time offerings outside the Mathematics Department, including courses from Psychology, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Philosophy, and other departments. This latter list emphasizes classes in which contextualized applications of quantitative reasoning play an important role in understanding other course content. Students who arrive on campus with college credit for past mathematics work (e.g., scoring a 4 or better on AP Calculus or Statistics exams) can count those credits toward fulfilling the QA requirement. To facilitate a new quantitative reasoning across the curriculum initiative on campus and to provide support for students and faculty doing quantitative research (especially in areas involving statistical applications), the College of Liberal Arts is launching a new Center for Quantitative Understanding, Analysis, and Design (QUAD) this fall (2010). Initially under the direction of Professor James Friedrich in the Department of Psychology, the focus of the center will be to provide a combination of drop-in assistance for students; course-related support in developing quantitative modules and assignments for a range of classes in the arts, sciences, and humanities; faculty support for instructional technology and best practices; assistance in student-faculty collaborative research projects; and assessment related to the quantitative literacy goals of the college. The University is currently supporting the new center with modest internal funds, but we are also actively pursuing external grant support for an expanded and more comprehensive QUAD Center as part of an overall student services initiative integrating our Learning Center, Writing Center, Language Learning Center, and Office of Undergraduate Grants and Awards. The university is also in the final stages of its regional re-accreditation process and will be initiating a review and revision of its general education curriculum during the coming two years. This will almost certainly bring changes to the quantitative reasoning requirements and our methods of assessment, and we hope to integrate the new QUAD Center and a quantitative-reasoning-across-the curriculum initiative into these institutional changes.


2. What are the key learning goals that shape your current programming or that you hope to achieve?

Although the previous revision to our general education program strengthened requirements in the QA area, this was accomplished primarily by increasing the number of required courses. The nature of the reform did acknowledge that both traditional mathematics courses and courses emphasizing more contextualized applications are important potential contributors to quantitative literacy, but it did little to identify more specific quantitative reasoning or literacy objectives. More recently, we have been discussing QA assessment rubrics that might be useful in evaluating outcomes. Based on a review of materials obtained from numerous institutions and sources (including the AAC & U Quantitative Reasoning VALUE rubric), the five learning outcomes specified in the rubric we piloted in assessment efforts this past spring are:

Ability to interpret and draw inferences from mathematical and formal models such as formulas, graphs, tables, and schematics;
Ability to represent logical and mathematical information symbolically, visually, numerically and verbally;
Ability to employ methods such as, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics or formal rules to solve problems;
Ability to check mathematical results and other conclusions for reasonableness;
Ability to recognize the limits of mathematical, statistical, or formal methods.

From a QR/QL perspective, we view this list of outcomes as tentative and somewhat incomplete. Specifically, they do not emphasize as clearly as they might the importance of evaluating the quality of data that are analyzed, communicating quantitative information and arguments effectively, or changing attitudes related to self-efficacy and the perceived value of quantitative reasoning perceptions that might impact whether the identified abilities and skills are spontaneously deployed in realistic (non course-related, ungraded) settings. Ideally, our revision of learning goals associated with our QA requirements will align with our QR-across-the curriculum efforts to have quantitative reasoning permeate a broader range of the undergraduate experience.


3. Do you have QR assessment instruments in place? If so; please describe:

At present, we have limited formal assessment measures in place. Instructors in QA courses have begun scoring selected beginning and end-of-term assignments according to our preliminary rubric. We also have more global, indirect self-report measures available through the institution's systematic administration of nationally normed instruments such as the NSSE and CIRP surveys. We are also administering the CLA exam to first year students and graduating seniors on a regular cycle but have not yet used it explicitly for QR assessment purposes. Finally, ongoing research by the QUAD Center director to develop a reliable and valid self report measure of mathematics self efficacy has produced a refined instrument validated in specific studies but not yet incorporated into any systematic, institutional assessment efforts. One goal of the newly approved QUAD Center is to identify a robust set of assessment tools and strategies that can be shared with faculty and used as part of a new QR assessment program on campus.


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?

Willamette University benefits greatly from a climate that has maintained a high degree of collegiality and a strong tradition of faculty autonomy and self governance. These strengths, however, also pose certain challenges. For example, the high degree of faculty autonomy means that extra effort is needed to secure buy in to any curricular reform (from learning objectives to rubrics to assessment tools) that might be seen as imposing some kind of common or uniform standard across instructors and departments. Similar to other institutions, Willamette faculty are also acutely aware of the potential time commitments involved in doing effective and useful assessment. The availability of appropriate and easily administered measures that provide useful feedback and avoid a laborious reinventing of the wheel will be important in securing faculty support. Also, faculty and departments understandably differ in the emphasis and importance they typically assign to quantitative reasoning. Whereas writing-across-the-curriculum is a near-universally accepted good across campus, there is likely to be less consensus regarding the value of having QR permeate the curriculum in the same manner. Initiatives that support less quantitatively oriented faculty in incorporating QR elements into their courses (and in evaluating the benefits) will be an important element in securing broad participation in our QR initiatives.


5. Considering your campus culture; what opportunities or assets will be available to support your QR initiatives?

Several circumstances combine to make the present time ideal for instituting and supporting QR initiatives at Willamette. As we approach the final stages of our re-accreditation process, there is considerable campus awareness of the importance of assessment in all academic domains, including QR. Although this comes with a certain degree of apprehension and a range of specific concerns, there is broad recognition that formalized assessment is here to stay, and so there is a corresponding interest in finding ways to establish clearly defined goals and outcomes that can be assessed efficiently using data that will not end up in some filing cabinet but instead have a clear and direct impact on the quality of instruction. The fact that the institution is initiating a re-visitation and probable restructuring of its general education requirements makes this a particularly opportune time for campus-wide discussion of QR objectives, pedagogy, and assessment. In addition, there are currently strong, grant-supported efforts on campus addressing interdisciplinary instruction in STEM related areas – work that provides a strong base of support for these QR initiatives. These efforts will be further strengthened by University's commitment to student academic support, including the recent hiring of a new director for our integrated Learning Center. Finally, the new QUAD Center comes on line this fall to provide direct support for QR-across-the curriculum efforts. The QUAD Center director, a long-term faculty member in Psychology with a research background in the areas of numeracy in judgment and decision making processes, psychological testing and scale development, and evaluation study design, is well-positioned to support institutional assessment efforts in the QR domain. Ongoing grant writing activity specifically targeting the QUAD Center and QR efforts on campus will help sustain these efforts into the future.