Quantitative reasoning in introductory environmental science textbooks

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Environmental science courses often are taken by nonscience majors to fulfill core undergraduate requirements. Because of this, these courses should provide students with the necessary skills used to interpret quantitative information from graphs. In this study, 10 environmental science textbooks were evaluated based on their incorporation of quantitative visuals. The mean graph density for the 10 textbooks was 0.22 figures per page. Across the 10 textbooks in the sample, the density of quantitative visuals ranged from 0.069 to 0.41 graphs per page. The type of graph that was represented most frequently was line (54%) followed by bar (29%), pie (12%), scatter (4%), and combination (1%). Other factors were taken into consideration, such as presence of error bars and a graph-interpreting supplemental section. Fifty percent of the textbooks contained at least one graph with error bars, and 30% of textbooks had at least one section dedicated to building graph comprehension. The wide variation in figure densities indicates that there are opportunities to expand the use of quantitative visuals in future editions of introductory environmental science textbooks when current editions have comparatively low figure densities. © 2011 AESS.

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