Professor Robinson has been deeply involved in Yale’s Quantitative Reasoning Initiative. This Yale College initiative established as its chief goal the improvement of undergraduate skills in Quantitative Reasoning. The focus on Quantitative Reasoning [QR] was generated by the CYC committee rulings in 2004 regarding course requirements. In the pre-2008 period, students could completely avoid taking any math courses while at Yale. The new requirements dictate that students must complete 2 QR courses. To satisfy the QR requirement, new courses must demonstrate that the exams and assignments be comprised of 50% QR based questions/equations. It often takes a few months to get a new QR course accepted.
Professor Robinson wanted to find new ways to engage the students in his QR courses. He initially worked with the Instructional Technology Group on making changes to an online QR assessment. Next, a partnership to offer a course on Natural Disasters was formed.
In Spring of 2005, Professor Robinson offered Astronomy 120, Galaxies and the Universe, a course for non-science majors with fewer quantitative reasoning skills. The course introduced two different types of sections: QR intensives sections and Conceptual sections. Wireless Polling devices, otherwise known as “Clickers,” were incorporated into class sessions. Questions focusing on QR and concepts were answered anonymously, thereby providing in-class feedback on general comprehension. The Clickers allowed Professor Robinson to course-correct in class. Pre-class web-based reading quizzes in Classes v2 were also included in the assignment structure for the course. The Reading quizzes also always asked the students whether there were any lingering concepts or quantitative points they didn’t understand. The professor and TFs would read the answers to the reading quizzes before the next class so that they could address gaps in comprehension during the next class. Two online multiple-choice QR assessments were given. These allowed the instructors to weed out the students who did “too well,” meaning they should have been in a higher level QR course, and give more individualized attention to the students who were struggling. Students who were having difficulty were triaged into the appropriate tutoring scenario. Professor Robinson tried to tailor the course to the individual needs of the students as based on their QR assessments.
For his course on Movie Physics, Professor Robinson focused on estimation as the chief QR component to be examined. The Movie Physics course was described in the course catalog as: “A critical evaluation of Hollywood action movies using the laws of physics and back of the envelope estimates to distinguish between fictional and real movie physics. Enrollment limited to freshmen and sophomores. Intended for students with little or no prior exposure to calculus and statistics.” Several contemporary movie clips were used as prompts for a variety of physics estimation assignments. The TwTT audience was treated to a sampling of the clips used in the course: the cow flinging episode from Monty Python’s “Holy Grail,” runaway train from Spiderman, and a spaceship’s encounter with an event horizon from Disney’s “Black Hole.”
For full coverage of this session, please click the video below (note a slight delay upon initial playback):