Math That Matters

Quality Enhancement Plan Aims to Change How Math is Taught

The cover of the Quality Enhancement Plan shows cadets marching across the Parade Ground.

LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 7,  2016 – Math that Matters: Math for the Modern World, the title of VMI’s proposed Quality Enhancement Plan, aims to introduce cadets majoring in the humanities and other programs to mathematical thinking that is relevant to what many perceive as subjects devoid of mathematics.

A faculty taskforce developed the QEP as part of VMI’s reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges.  The plan was submitted to the agency last month.  The Institute will host an on-site team from the regional accrediting agency in November.  VMI last received accreditation in 2007.

“VMI’s mission has remained to prepare young men and women ‘for the varied work of civil life,’” Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, superintendent, wrote in a letter accompanying the QEP proposal. “The nature of that ‘varied work’ has evolved, and we believe that our Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) modernizes the skills and attributes all VMI graduates will require to succeed in a rapidly evolving, data-rich, computationally-driven world.           

The QEP was chosen from topics outlined in 10 white papers prepared by faculty members suggesting ways to introduce innovative initiatives into the curriculum. The Department of Applied Mathematics collaborated with colleagues in other departments to design courses for non-STEM departments.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey G. Smith Jr. ’79, deputy superintendent and dean of the faculty, said the program is designed to give cadets in majors that normally do not require extensive mathematics training an understanding of how mathematics and computational skills are nonetheless useful.

“Our QEP will introduce contextualized, authentic approaches to teaching and learning that are designed to enhance the educational experience of students, while assembling a set of complementary math and computational skills that are relevant to the modern world, regardless of discipline or profession,” he said in another letter accompanying the QEP submission.

The QEP notes that mathematics is deeply embedded in the world.  Even cadets in non-STEM majors need a basic understanding of computational thinking as they pursue careers that can be very different from those they envisioned while undergraduates.

The QEP will combine two existing core math sequences for non-STEM majors into a single two-course sequence. The new sequence will retain the most relevant mathematical skills and add a set of modern computational skills, a comprehensive assessment structure, and reduced classroom size. The new course will consist of modules to increase cadet interest, ownership, and mastery of skills through frameworks for solving problems in the context of their own academic and professional interests.  The material is to be presented in a cadet-centered educational environment. 

The Institute has committed $687,000 over five years to implement the QEP. The plan to implement the QEP anticipates that after preparation and a pilot program, the two-course sequence will be implemented for all non-STEM majors during the 2018-19 academic year.

– Col. Stewart MacInnis



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