February 19, 2019

Professor's research to improve quantitative reasoning centers

A Goucher professor earned two awards for research that asks how quantitative reasoning (QR) centers can improve student tutoring and overall learning in quantitative fields.

  • Professor Justine Chasmar

Assistant Professor Justine Chasmar, Goucher's Quantitative Reasoning (QR) Center director, worked with Ben Smith, the director of the Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning Center at Hamilton College, to complete this research.

The National College Learning Center Association granted them the $1,000 Hunter Boylan Research Scholarship, and the National Association for Developmental Education granted them the $500 Outstanding Proposed Research Award.

The first part of their research took a step back from QR centers to examine writing centers, which Chasmar said developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from an organic, classroom approach. “People write all the time, right? Well, people do math all the time, too, they just don’t think they do,” Chasmar said.

Their paper examines how discipline-based training helps tutors better teach the material and how writing centers create a sense of community. “It’s a literary review, but it’s also a call to arms,” Chasmar said. “What should QR centers be doing? What can that community learn from writing centers?”

Chasmar and Smith then conducted pilot research that asked QR tutors to define quantitative reasoning, quantitative literacy, and numeracy before and after discipline-based training. The tutors didn’t all have the same definitions, but they did identify quantitative reasoning as a process, using skills to reach a tangible outcome.

“We saw some really interesting things, so we were able to create a framework for how students learn. Was the training effective? Did the tutors perceive it as effective? How did they think they could use what they had learned in tutor training?”

Tutors then used their understanding of the definitions as a diagnostic tool to categorize what area of learning the student was struggling with—quantitative reasoning, quantitative literacy, and/or numeracy. This knowledge helped them identify how to help the student and provide the most effective form of tutoring, Chasmar said.

After the pilot, Chasmar and Smith conducted widespread research at multiple institutions. The next steps will be to analyze the data, compose the results, and submit a journal article. Additionally, Chasmar uses the same discipline training from her research to better inform Goucher’s QR tutors. Ultimately, she hopes that every QR center will implement such practices.

“[The awards] are great,” Chasmar said, “because getting recognized means the learning center community also thinks this is needed and important and sees that discipline-based training could be really useful for tutors.”