A New Literacies Approach to Academic Numeracy Practices in Higher Education

Robert Prince, Arlene Archer


This paper explores the terms ‘mathematical literacy’, ‘quantitative
literacy’ and ‘numeracy’, in order to gain theoretical clarity on their
meanings and the ways in which they are used. The teaching-learning
situation and the learner are constructed in particular ways by these terms,
and different understandings of these terms may reflect the values and
rationales of various stakeholders who promote them. We propose the term
‘academic numeracy practices’ in order to emphasise the socially situated
nature of all practices, to avoid reifying ‘numeracy’ into a set of discrete
skills that an individual can either possess or lack, and to avoid extending
the characteristics of one mode (namely, writing) to other modes. In arguing
for the new term, we draw on the theoretical orientation of New Literacies
Studies and multimodality. We exemplify our position by looking at charts
as conventionalised practice in Higher Education in South Africa, focusing
on BMI charts in the Health Sciences.

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