NSF grant paves the way to advancing development of the Catalyst curriculum

Josie Garrett '21 presenting

A three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) has helped Ripon College develop the Catalyst curriculum. The grant, “A Collaborative Approach to Building Capacity for Interdisciplinary Quantitative Reasoning Instruction” was designated for the improvement of the quantitative reasoning curriculum. The principal investigators of the grant are Andrea Young, McKenzie Lamb, Steve Martin, Matt Knoester, associate professor of education studies; and Soren Hauge, professor of economics.

In years one and two, faculty learning communities were created to develop shared understandings of quantitative reasoning. The goal was to develop expertise and shared experience in quantitative reasoning so professors could be better equipped to teach Catalyst 120: Quantitative Reasoning.

The plans for year three are to “work with a small number of faculty to develop truly innovative and interdisciplinary data visualization tools and assignments that can be used throughout the curriculum,” Young says.

In November 2020, Young and Lamb presented the improvements to the Catalyst curriculum at the national AAC&U Transforming STEM Higher Education conference. The presentation was titled “Quantitative Reasoning across STEM: Building Institutional Capacity.”

The presentation focused on the importance of quantitative reasoning skills in higher education and the fact that a “robust body of research indicates that teaching quantitative reasoning across disciplines improves student learning and confidence,” Young says. A challenge to doing so, addressed by the NSF grant project, is that many faculty members do not have the resources or training to teach quantitative reasoning in a way that is transferable between varying contexts, she says.

The active NSF grant provided “evidence that an interdisciplinary faculty learning community is an effective way to develop quantitative reasoning content for STEM disciplines,” she says.

Young and Lamb also presented a roadmap for how other institutions can implement a similar faculty development program to develop quantitative reasoning materials.

In February, a second presentation at the AAC&U General Education, Pedagogy and Assessment conference, titled “Bridging disciplinary divides: a case study in developing a multidisciplinary quantitative reasoning general education curriculum,” was presented by Young and Lamb.

This presentation was on the development of a curriculum with measurable, transferable skills across disciplines. They provided evidence based on Ripon College’s active NSF grant that an interdisciplinary faculty learning community is an effective way to develop a shared institutional understanding of quantitative reasoning. This presentation similarly presented a roadmap for institutions to develop similar faculty development programs.

(Photo: Josie Garrett ’21 presents at the fall 2019 Catalyst Day)

Jillian Heidenreich ’21
Monroe, Wisconsin