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Quantitative Literacy and the Humanities

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Attitudes are the habits of mind that will allow for success.  Some are specific to quantitative literacy, while others are
valuable for any learning.  We may not be able to assess these attitudes directly* in our students, but it is crucial that we try to foster them. 

  • Belief in the value of quantitative reasoning
  • Confidence in one’s ability to do math
  • Belief in the value of precision and accuracy
  • Belief in the value of skepticism
  • Openness to a variety of techniques, tools and technologies
  • Confidence that the course, instructor and university support the student

* Indirect assessment of the first two Attitudes could occur by rating whether a student uses quantitative methods or relies solely on qualitative methods or on opinions to solve a given problem.

Belief in the value of quantitative reasoning

Quantitatively literate individuals believe that QL will help them to achieve personal and socially-valued goals.  They recognize that mathematics is far more than a simple matter of computation.  They are predisposed to look at the world mathematically, to use quantitative justification for arguments, to use data as evidence for their decisions.  They recognize that math can be used on the job, and that it is necessary to scientific research and technological development.  They value math for its contribution to an effective citizenry.  Furthermore, they acknowledge that mathematics has a history, and can have elements of beauty and playfulness.

Confidence in one’s ability to do math

Quantitatively literate individuals are confident that they can use mathematics to analyze problems and arrive at sound solutions.  They can think for themselves, and they are able to ask intelligent questions and confront authority with confidence.  They believe that they can learn new mathematical skills and apply them to new situations.  As a matter of routine, they use mental estimates to interpret information.

Quantitatively literate individuals overcome any anxiety they may feel about math.  When confronted with a difficult problem, they focus on their strategies and skills, rather than on their personal characteristics (stating “I’m learning how to use probability” or “I’m working on my math skills,” rather than “I’m bad at math”).  They interpret emotional arousal as excitement at tackling a challenge, rather than as negative anxiety.

Belief in the value of precision and accuracy

Quantitatively literate individuals use mathematics to arrive at a more precise and accurate answer than other ways of thinking can achieve.  They recognize that precision and accuracy are not the same: precision refers to the level of specificity, whereas accuracy refers to the proximity to the truth.  A precise answer is not always accurate, and an accurate answer is not always precise (to say that the population of the U.S. is 143,209,334 is very precise, but it's not accurate.  To say that the population is 317 million is not as precise, but it is more accurate).  They value precision and accuracy as components of decision-making, but at the same time they recognize that precision and accuracy are not the  only criteria for a “correct” solution.

Belief in the value of skepticism

Quantitatively literate individuals are in the habit of asking questions.  They are adept sniffing out fallacies and determining whether the evidence presented supports the conclusions.  They ask questions about the collection of data and are savvy about various ways numbers can be presented.

Openness to a variety of techniques, tools and technologies

Quantitatively literate individuals are open to trying unfamiliar methods in order to arrive at new insights or simply for the joy of learning a novel technique.  They are flexible and willing to experiment in their ways of thinking.  They recognize that there may be several valid approaches to a problem.  They choose to use paper, pencil, calculators and computers with intention, as appropriate to the task at hand.  They recognize that no one tool is best for all situations.

Confidence that the course, instructor and university support the student

In order for higher education to make a difference in the individual’s development in QL, we must instill confidence that the course, its instructor, and the university as a whole all serve to support the student.  This confidence must extend to the major program, the core curriculum and advising, as well as to the university support of the student’s daily life, mental health, financial well-being, and general well-being.

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