In this post, I would like to clarify how Quantway™ and MLCS (Mathematical Literacy for College Students) compare. Part of this will involve a brief history of these courses; the rest will be a focus on the practical differences — keeping in mind the considerable overlap that exists.
The starting point for this work was fall of 2006, when AMATYC released the standards “Beyond Crossroads” (http://beyondcrossroads.amatyc.org/). At the heart of the discussions on appropriate content, the standards emphasized quantitative literacy in all math courses. The release of the standards occurred during the AMATYC conference that year; at that conference, members of the Developmental Mathematics Committee had a brief discussion about models for developmental mathematics … essentially saying that it would be nice to have an actual model to guide our work, instead of a curriculum constrained by history. Over the following two years, conversations took place about the problems in developmental mathematics and creating a plan.
By 2008, these conversations within AMATYC led to the start of the New Life Project by the Developmental Mathematics Committee (DMC); we formed some work teams which developed a collection of learning outcomes that followed from professional work outside of AMATYC (Numeracy Network, MAA, etc) as well as within AMATYC (Beyond Crossroads). To help our work, we created an online community in early 2009 — the wiki at http://dm-live.wikispaces.com, and invited professionals to join the community.
During this same period, foundations were becoming more interested in the needs within developmental mathematics. The resulting opportunity for collaboration (especially with the Gates Foundation) led to a Seattle meeting in July of 2009; these people (sometimes called the Seattle 15) created the first draft of a curricular model — the first model created for developmental mathematics, designed for broad implementation. This model identified two courses; the first course was originally called ‘the blue box’ (because that was the marker color used that day), and the second course was called ‘transitions’ (because we thought ‘the green box’ might not work too well). As the model was developed, it became clear that we needed to deal with other factors — especially professional development.
This timeframe coincided with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching starting their pathways work. Members of the New Life Project were included in all of the original planning for the pathways work, and the initial learning outcomes were those of the ‘blue box’ course. As Carnegie worked with their curriculum partner (Dana Center, University of Texas – Austin), these learning outcomes were vetted by professional organizations and kept synchronized with the New Life work. (Most of these same learning outcomes exist in the Statway courses.) The Pathways work included a deliberate system for professional development, called the Networked Improvement Community (NIC). Although the NIC was developed without direct input from New Life members, the design of the NIC dealt with the same professional issues that New Life identified.
Originally, the Pathways course was called “Mathway” and the New Life course with the same content was called “Foundations of Mathematical Literacy”. Each of these names had problems. By the end of 2010, the current names were identified — Quantway and Mathematical Literacy for College Students (MLCS). That year (2010) was the first year that faculty at particular colleges became interested in beginning the process to implement the new course; most of the early interest was in MLCS, because the online community could communicate at that time … the Carnegie work with colleges came a little later. Several colleges that were among the first to be interested in MLCS decided to become part of the Quantway network.
When Quantway colleges developed their courses, they sometimes named their course “MLCS” — the content of Quantway and the New Life MLCS are essentially the same. Indeed, there are high levels of agreement between Quantway and MLCS in content and professional areas. Some colleges outside of the Quantway NIC say that they are implementing Quantway — this is not true; implementing Quantway means that your college has been accepted formally into the NIC. Outside of “the NIC”, colleges are implementing the New Life MLCS.
That is the major difference between MLCS and Quantway: Quantway involves a formal network (NIC), with commonality of implementation; MLCS (New Life) involves a local implementation of a model course adapted to local needs, with an informal network. The New Life project operates as a subcommittee of the DMC, and we continue to develop resources to support faculty.
A related difference lies in the materials. Quantway colleges all use the same materials (currently Quantway version 2.0), which includes an online system and common assessment items. MLCS (New Life) faculty use either commercial texts or locally written materials; in some cases, the locally written materials will be developed by publishers into commercial texts. The Quantway materials are currently about a year ahead of MLCS materials — MLCS materials are at the pilot or class test phase (1.0) while Quantway is at version 2.0.
The second major difference lies in the curricular purpose for the course. Quantway is intended to be the prerequisite to a quantitative reasoning course (aka quantitative literacy); this is how the name was chosen — and Quantway 2 (the second course) is currently being developed by Carnegie. The New Life MLCS course can also be used for this purpose; however, the MLCS course is seen as playing a larger curricular role — MLCS can be the prerequisite to an introductory statistics course, other quantitative reasoning courses, and the Transitions course. If colleges implement both MLCS and Transitions, they can completely replace their developmental algebra courses. In other words, Quantway is designed to serve very specific groups of students; New Life MLCS is designed to be the basis for fundamental change.
The other difference lies in the practical issues of implementation — Quantway colleges must use the implementation process of the NIC, while MLCS faculty can do their own or use the resources of the New Life project. The New Life project focuses on helping faculty and departments meet local needs with flexibility; the Quantway process emphasizes the NIC with limited options for local adaptations. Again, both models incorporate needs outside of the content; professional development is critical in both.
All other differences are matters of aesthetics and minor details. If you remember that Quantway and MLCS share a common source, and that the differences lie in networks and implementation, you will have a fairly accurate view. The two labels are not equivalent, because the Quantway label includes the NIC and commonality of implementation; New Life MLCS includes the long-term reform of the curriculum (combined with Transitions).
I invite you into this process of bringing new life to the developmental mathematics programs that serve the needs of our students. We can escape the ‘black box’ of history, and enjoy a ‘blue box’ and a ‘green box’ — MLCS and Transitions. Your department can begin this work. Your college might choose to apply to become part of Quantway. Take that first step on the road to better mathematics for your students.
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