Writing With Numbers 2

Recent years have seen an explosion of data availability as computer memory has expanded and the internet has dramatically reduced the cost of posting and accessing data. Unfortunately, students' ability to argue and think effectively with quantitative evidence has not kept pace. The result is an increasingly divided society in which those who cannot reason with numbers must rely on those who can for medical, financial, political, and professional guidance. This workshop seeks to equip faculty to attend to this problem by encouraging students to write with quantitative reasoning (QR).

The connection between QR and writing is natural for two reasons. First, a large literature emphasizes the contextual elements of QR. It is not enough to be able to perform a skill when prompted: QR demands that a student see the potential power (and limitations) of numerical evidence in a given situation and be able to apply it appropriately in that context. Written assignments drawn from across the curriculum represent ideal "natural contexts" in which students can practice this art. Second, the act of writing often prompts deeper understanding and discovery. By asking students to use quantitative support for their arguments, we believe they will grow in their appreciation for and facility with reasoning with numbers.

As the National Council on Education and the Disciplines' Forum on Quantitative Literacy concluded, the implementation of QR across the curriculum faces large professional development challenges. "Faculty in all disciplines need significant professional support in order for them to enhance the role of quantitative literacy in their courses." This workshop aims to provide this support.

Workshop Goals

  • To share ideas for promoting quantitative literacy across the curriculum
  • To develop teaching strategies that increase students' comfort with numbers and their confidence in analyzing and using numbers.
  • To become aware of the wide range of available data-online and elsewhere-useful for assignments
  • To share assignment ideas for encouraging students to incorporate numbers into a writing project, either as background information or as data for analysis and argument
  • To develop at least one formal assignment suitable for contribution to a peer-reviewed website on writing with numbers
  • To wear outrageous socks on Friday

Workshop References

Bean, John C. 2001. Engaging Ideas. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Miller, Jane E. 2004. The Chicago Guide to Writing about Numbers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tufte, Edward R. 1997. Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Making Decisions. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press LLC.

Workshop Conveners

John C. Bean, Department of English, Seattle University
Neil Lutsky, Department of Psychology, Carleton College
Carol Rutz, College Writing Program, Carleton College
Kristin Partlo, Reference Librarian, Carleton College
Nathan Grawe, Department of Economics, Carleton College