Quantitative literacy, STEM, geocscience education, Polya heuristic, spreadsheets in education


Since 1996, the Geology (GLY) program at the USF has offered “Computational Geology” as part of its commitment to prepare undergraduate majors for the quantitative aspects of their field. The course focuses on geological-mathematical problem solving. Over its twenty years, the course has evolved from a GATC (geometry-algebra-trigonometry-calculus) in-discipline capstone to a quantitative literacy (QL) course taught within a natural science major. With the formation of the new School of Geosciences in 2013, the merging departments re-examined their various curricular programs. An online survey of the Geology Alumni Society found that “express quantitative evidence in support of an argument” was more favorably viewed as a workplace skill (4th out of 69) than algebra (51st), trig (55th) and calculus 1 and 2 (59th and 60th). In that context, we decided to find out from successful alumni, “What did you get out of Computational Geology?”

To that end, the first author carried out a formal, qualitative research study (narrative inquiry protocol), whereby he conducted, recorded, and transcribed semi-structured interviews of ten alumni selected from a list of 20 provided by the second author. In response to “Tell me what you remember from the course,” multiple alumni volunteered nine items: Excel (10 out of 10), Excel modules (8), Polya problem solving (5), “important” (4), unit conversions (4), back-of-the-envelope calculations (4), gender equality (3). In response to “Is there anything from the course that you used professionally or personally since graduating?” multiple alumni volunteered seven items: Excel (9 out of 10), QL/thinking (6), unit conversions (5), statistics (5), Excel modules (3), their notes (2). Outcome analysis from the open-ended comments arising from structured questions led to the identification of alumni takeaways in terms of elements of three values: (1) understanding and knowledge (facts such as conversion factors, and concepts such as proportions and log scales); (2) abilities and skills (communication, Excel, unit conversions); and (3) traits and dispositions (problem solving, confidence, and QL itself). The overriding conclusion of this case study is that QL education can have a place in geoscience education where the so-called context of the QL is interesting because it is in the students’ home major, and that such a course can be tailored to any level of program prerequisites.



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