What is Quantitative Reasoning?

Quantitative Reasoning “Across the Curriculum” seems to be the next big thing in higher education. But what is Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and why is it important?

Carleton College defines QR as “the habit of mind to consider the power and limitations of quantitative evidence in the evaluation, construction, and communication of arguments in public, professional, and personal life.” QR is essentially the intersection of using basic mathematical skills and critical thinking, and applying them to real world contexts.

Elrod-Fig1QR is different from traditional mathematics because it’s less about how to perform calculations and more about the meaning of a calculation result. QR permeates all areas of life. Whether it’s deciding how to finance a car or home, interpreting the validity of a new research study’s conclusions that the media is perhaps over-hyping, evaluating medical treatment (why do some people treat cancer with alternative medicine when its not proven to succeed?), or debating the cost-benefits of non-GMO vs GMO foods, quantitative reasoning can help us reach more valid conclusions.

QR skills are needed in a variety of disciplines and everyday life, and it is important that students are exposed to it across the curriculum.You may be wondering how you could possibly apply a QR activity in your own courses. Here are some ideas:

  1. Compare journalistic reports to the primary source of research (on a topic that is related to your course) [Example]
  2. Critically analyze a graph, table, chart, research article, and/or media video [Example
  3. Graphing stories or chapters/segments (great for the humanities!) [Example]
  4. Planning or analyzing a budget for a project (whether it’s an art project, political campaign, policy intervention, etc.)
  5. Have students describe and analyze graphs that are relevant to your course. [Example]

Carleton College Quantitative Inquiry, Reasoning, and Knowledge (QuIRK) initiative.
Elrod, Susan. 2014. “Quantitative Reasoning: The Next “Across the Curriculum” Movement.” Peer Review 16 (3).