1, 2, 3, 4: Infusing quantitative literacy into introductory biology

Elena Bray Speth, Jennifer L. Momsen, Gregory A. Moyerbrailean, Diane Ebert-May, Tammy M. Long, Sara Wyse, Debra Linton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Biology of the twenty-first century is an increasingly quantitative science. Undergraduate biology education therefore needs to provide opportunities for students to develop fluency in the tools and language of quantitative disciplines. Quantitative literacy (QL) is important for future scientists as well as for citizens, who need to interpret numeric information and data-based claims regarding nearly every aspect of daily life. To address the need for QL in biology education, we incorporated quantitative concepts throughout a semester-long introductory biology course at a large research university. Early in the course, we assessed the quantitative skills that students bring to the introductory biology classroom and found that students had difficulties in performing simple calculations, representing data graphically, and articulating data-driven arguments. In response to students' learning needs, we infused the course with quantitative concepts aligned with the existing course content and learning objectives. The effectiveness of this approach is demonstrated by significant improvement in the quality of students' graphical representations of biological data. Infusing QL in introductory biology presents challenges. Our study, however, supports the conclusion that it is feasible in the context of an existing course, consistent with the goals of college biology education, and promotes students' development of important quantitative skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-332
Number of pages10
JournalCBE Life Sciences Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


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