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2. Background

In the past few decades, there has been an enormous increase in the use of mathematical models and methods in virtually all aspects of human endeavor. The future scientific workforce will require minds that can draw upon the concepts and modes of reasoning of several quantitative disciplines, with mathematics as the common language. Social science and business majors, who typically exhibit anxiety about mathematics and have poor preparation in quantitative reasoning, will need proficiency in a variety of mathematical techniques.

The dropout rate of students from S.M.E. (science, mathematics, and engineering) majors is much too high. A recent Sloan Foundation-funded study of why students leave or remain in S.M.E. majors reaches the following conclusion: "... switchers and non-switchers [out of S.M.E.] were almost unanimous in their view that no set of problems in S.M.E. majors was more in need of urgent, radical improvement than faculty pedagogy. All related matters, including the curriculum revision, were deemed secondary to this need. .. . . Though faculty sometimes like to begin a program of reform with discussions about curriculum structure and content, this is unlikely to improve retention unless it is part of a parallel, and iterative, discussion of how best to present these materials so as to secure maximum student comprehension, ..", Talking about Leaving, Report to the Sloan Foundation, by E. Seymour and N. Hewitt, April, 1994. In sum, how we teach is at least as important as what we teach. These workforce needs and the SME dropout problem present special challenges for women, minorities and other groups who have been historically underrepresented in mathematically based disciplines.

Getting faculty to change the way they teach requires that faculty question established practices, learn to be effective with new modes of instruction and student learning, and commit more time to class preparation. There are related responsibilities for students´┐Ż to become more active learners in the classroom and laboratory, to write about what they are learning, and to learn to work effectively in teams on unstructured assignments. On the other hand, virtually all faculty want to teach in a way that makes their students become more engaged in the classroom. Similarly students want learning to be a more fulfilling experience. We believe that our model of an interconnected learning environment provides a natural framework to tie together the many individual changes in teaching, curriculum and technology that face faculty and students.

There are a number of innovative educational efforts currently underway on Long Island. These include reform in curriculum and instruction in introductory chemistry, engineering, computer science, calculus, and precalculus; large NSF projects for minorities and women in S.M.E. majors; innovative use of technology in instruction; and much more. However, each typically impacts only a limited number of students and a few faculty at just one school. There is little coherence, cooperation or synergy among the efforts.

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The Long Island Consortium is sponsored by the NSF Initiative: Mathematical Sciences and Their Application Throughout the Curriculum, DUE #9555142. The original NSF proposal can be accessed by clicking here.

Last updated October 7, 1997. Please direct comments or suggestions to [email protected]