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Quantifying Success

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The Quantitative Reasoning Center helps students navigate mathematical concepts

by Tony Moore

Anyone who’s ever struggled with the intricacies of math has probably wished a resource existed nearby where they could swing in, get some help and leave with a sense of understanding that was elusive earlier that day.

At Dickinson, that resource is housed right in Waidner-Spahr Library, and it’s called the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) Center

One-on-one approach

“We have tutors that cover a variety of different subjects—everything from psychology to economics—so we can help students do their very best when it comes to quantitative reasoning,” says Eryn Nelson ’19 (chemistry), one of the QR Center’s pool of 24 tutors and associates, all of whom are students. “While professors are a good resource for students to reach out to, as are group studying/tutoring sessions, the QR Center adds an extra option for students who want one-on-one help.”

The QR Center was established during the 2015-16 academic year and recently received a major shot in the arm: Recognizing the center's value to Dickinson students, David A. ’74 and Susan S. ’75 Souerwine have made a generous gift that will expand the staff and the support that the center can offer to the campus community.

“There has been a large need for a QR Center all the way back to when we were students," says David. "We are pleased to see this much needed initiative expanded given that there is so much interest on campus."

With growing interest and success, the center has grown 134 percent since its inception—85 percent in the number of distinct visitors—and in the most recent academic year (2017-18), students reported seeking assistance in courses spanning 18 different disciplines, including biology, economics and philosophy. In all, the QR Center is set up to create a comfortable space for students looking for some foundational help, a leg up or just some validation on their own methods and results.

“I find that students can be intimidated by some of the work they are assigned and feel more comfortable attempting the problems with the assistance of a tutor,” says Calvin Wirfel ’21 (quantitative economics). “I have also found that some students understand the problems on their own but consult us as tutors to ensure that they are doing them correctly.”

Both sides of the equation

Nelson, who tutors mostly in chemistry and works with students on their Excel skills, notes that a deeper understanding of the coursework is felt on both sides of the equation.

“I think tutoring is beneficial for not only the tutee but the tutor as well,” she says. “As a tutor, I help students with their work, but that also requires me to review the concepts for myself, so I am constantly looking over my old notes and improving my own understanding of the material.”

The QR Center assists students in any course with mathematical content, and its tutors have been recommended by faculty and trained in techniques based in the science of learning. The center allows students to choose tutors who have already taken the course at hand, and students find that their peers provide an atmosphere in which learning is facilitated through familiarity.

“It was nice to have a peer who understood the material, since I felt that I could be more open with him,” says Christian Moran ’21 (quantitative economics), who was tutored by Wirfel for work in his Intermediate Macroeconomics course. “I feel as though students sometimes hold back on what and how much they know since they want to come off as smart to the professor. The tutor is not the one handing out the grades, so it's easier to let them know the full extent of your problems.” 

Best Practices & QRAs

"I have developed a passion for the mission of the QR Center, helping students through the gateway quantitative courses," says Emily Marshall, assistant professor of economics, who co-directs the QR Center along with Noreen Lape, associate provost of academic affairs and director of the Writing Program/Norman M. Eberly Multilingual Writing Center. "And in learning about this role and the best practices for QR centers, I've spent a lot of time researching techniques, organization and strategies for success."

One part of the center's strategy for success is the Quantitative Reasoning Associates (QRA) program,  which was recently launched in two courses: Elementary Statistics and Econometrics. With the QRAs, the center now has 24 students working as tutors. And this semester, the QRA program has expanded further to include 12 different courses in six different departments.

"The QRA program brings the QR Center to the classroom, and I check in regularly with the QRAs and instructors in the pilot and have been pleased to hear high praise for the program," says Marshall, noting that QRAs are trained to assist instructors and students in covering such areas as understanding course content, developing quantitative skills, improving study skills and providing test preparation strategies. "This pedagogical partnership has enormous potential to impact students and faculty, because in order to graduate, all students are required to take at least one QR course, offered in a variety of disciplines. Dickinson’s QR Center, then, supports numeracy for all students.”

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Published March 31, 2019