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Faculty propose Quantitative Resource Center

This May, numerous staff proposed plans for a potential new Quantitative Resource Center (QRC) during a meeting of the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC), a subcommittee of the Carleton Student Association.

The new facility, which faculty hope to be situated in the library near the Writing Center, would serve as a resource for students without a strong background in quantitative reasoning (QR), according to the faculty’s proposal document. The QRC would also function as the headquarters of a “point person” dedicated to helping design curricula across the school in order to help incorporate Carleton’s Quantitative Reasoning Encounter (QRE) requirement into many departments, along with accommodating students.

“The purpose of the center is to try to help both students and faculty make sure that everyone has the quantitative skills… they need to succeed at Carleton,” said Professor Daniela Kohen of the chemistry department.

However, faculty said the QRC is just an idea at this point.

“The QRC is more an idea bubbling up than a realized center,” said Professor Nathan Grawe of the economics department. “Quantitative skills and quantitative reasoning have been skills that faculty have recognized are important for students for a long time. For about fifteen years now we’ve had a relatively consistent faculty initiative trying to think about how we change our courses, change assignments, [and]change support structures so that students can tap into all that is their potential both in life after Carleton and at Carleton.”

Along with Kohen and Grawe, three other faculty helped to write the proposal and to bring it to the ECC: Professor Melissa Eblen-Zayas of the physics department, Professor Deborah Gross of the chemistry department, and Neil Lutsky of the psychology department.

The initiative first began fifteen years ago when a group of concerned Carleton faculty met to discuss students’ quantitative skills.
“We believed graduates should have background enabling them to think critically about quantitative and non-quantitative evidence and to use [those skills] effectively and with integrity in the support of arguments,” said Neil Lutsky.

The meeting sparked an initiative that gave birth to the Quantitative Inquiry, Reasoning and Knowledge (QuIRK) group, the momentum of which later caused the group to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation and Keck Foundation—culminating, later, in Carleton adding the QRE requirement to its curriculum.

Grawe noted that many students come to Carleton trained and ready in many aspects but weak in the quantitative area. With the QRC, Grawe and the four other professors hope to extend quantitative reasoning practice and instruction throughout all courses in the Carleton curriculum.

“Taking students who might have a weak spot in the quantitative area and stretch[ing] the instruction out slightly… [so they can] go on through the rest of the major,” Grawe said.

There is a present need for strengthening students’ quantitative skills. According to the group’s proposal document, in introductory economics classes, for example, low grades in the course can often be predicted by a low score on a QR assessment given at the beginning of the term.

“We have… really bright students come [who] have a weak spot—who doesn’t? That’s the point of education: to identify those weak spots and to fill them in,” Grawe said.

The “weak spot,” he continued, can hinder a student’s learning and prevent them from pursuing their intended field or major.

“That’s not what Carleton’s supposed to be,” Grawe said. “You’re not supposed to come and be pigeonholed on your first day. We’re looking as faculty to combat that.”

In searching for a “point person,” the five faculty and the ECC have specified that in order to best fit the role, the individual should, among other things, have experience in the classroom in some capacity, organize faculty workshops and establish a network with other schools with similar facilities.
At the ECC meeting in May, the committee stated that they envision “this person’s role to be similar [to] that of the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum,” a department focused on helping teach students how to write.

Carleton is not the first school to take on initiatives like this.

“Recently, we’ve seen other schools develop new means of addressing QR on their campuses by organizing QR support centers akin to Carleton’s Writing Center,” Lutsky said. “This is not surprising. A wide variety of academic fields, professionals and social institutions rely on research findings, and knowing what to look for in that research, methodologically and statistically, is critical to what might be of crucial value and what might not in a set of quantitative claims.”
While the potential QRC is at the moment just a thought, Kohen and Grawe indicated that important events may be on the horizon.

“There is an eighteen-month budget creation process,” Grawe said. “So the culminating point would be in March [when] the Board of Trustees will approve the budget for the next fiscal year. So, if this were to happen next fiscal year, I would presume it would have to make it through the budget process in March, which means that in the next five or six months, we should have heard about it.”

“But,” Kohen said, “at this point, it’s [out of] our hands.”

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