Quantitative Literacy Information

1. What is Quantitative Literacy?
2. What quantitative (Q) skills should all college graduates possess?
3. What is happening regarding Quantitative Literacy beyond Bowdoin?
4. What additional web resources are available for supporting QL courses and their development?

What is Quantitative Literacy?

A first clarification may be to say what quantitative literacy (QL) IS NOT. QL is not mathematics as has been traditionally taught at the college level. Instead, QL involves seeking and analyzing quantitative information for applications in daily living, both personal and professional.

Traditional Math Quantitative Literacy
Abstract, deductive discipline Practical, robust habit of mind
Employed in professions such as sciences, technology, engineering Employed in every aspect of an alert, informed life
Rises above context Anchored in context
Objects of study are ideals (in the Platonic sense) Objects of study are data
Serves primarily professional purposes Is essential for all graduates' personal and civic responsibilities

note: the above table was excerpted from "Everything I Needed to Know about Averages. . . I Learned in College" by Lynn Arthur Steen, professor of mathematics, St. Olaf College.

As the above summary suggests, QL is interdisciplinary. Students should encounter examples of QL in courses throughout their college curriculum, just as they will encounter QL in a variety of situations after graduation. At Bowdoin, most of a student's QL exposure will be in courses fulfilling the "Mathematical, Computational, or Statistical Reasoning" (MCSR) distribution requirement [effective beginning with the class of 2010]. In addition, a student should expect to encounter "bits of QL" in any course in any discipline.

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What quantitative (Q) skills should all college graduates possess?

A Q-literate graduate will have acquired a competency and comfort level in combining relatively elementary mathematics (mostly pre- and basic algebra skills) with a proficiency in critical thinking and problem solving. For some examples of this literacy goal, see these sample QL proficiency questions provided by Bill Briggs from CU Denver.


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What is happening regarding Quantitative Literacy beyond Bowdoin?

There is national recognition that QL is one of the fundamental abilities that informed citizens should have. In 2001, the National Council on Education and the Disciplines convened a national conference on QL. Its recommendations are contained in Mathematics and Democracy: The Case for Quantitative Literacy . The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) demonstrated its commitment to QL by featuring an article on QL in summer 2003, and devoting the entire summer 2004 issue to QL.

To see what some other colleges are doing about Quantitative Literacy on their campuses, follow the links below.

1). Carleton College has a FIPSE supported program "Quantitative Inquiry, Reasoning, and Knowledge" (QUIRK) initiative. The site links to descriptions of several courses, many outside the traditional MCSR domain and also describes some of the campus support for the implementation of the initiative.

2). Dartmouth University has a "Math Across the Curriculum" site with links to courses offered and an electronic bookshelf of course resources.

3). Macalester College has adopted a requirement in Quantitative Thinking effective for the class of 2011. This site provides a description of the development of this new requirement.

4). Skidmore College has a web site clearly describing its quantitative requirement and listing courses that fulfill it.

5). Trinity College and Wellesley College each have an established Quantitative Program supporting quantitative curricular requirements.

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What additional web resources are available for supporting QL courses and their development?

The National Numeracy Network (sponsored by NSF, Darmouth, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation) offers support for integrating QL into all disciplines.

SIGMAA QL is a subgroup of The Mathematical Association of America focusing on QL issues and assisting colleagues in other disciplines.

Bowdoin is an active member of the Northeast Consortium on Quantitative Literacy (NECQL) and the college's Director of Q-Skills has participated in the organization since its founding. The site provides links to conference programs for the past five years, with access to conference materials from 2005 and 2006.

The Chance website is a Dartmouth resource containing materials used to teach a QL course making students more informed, critical readers of current news stories from a variety of disciplines.

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