Subcommittee Chosen To Refine Curriculum, Collect GIR Feedback

During last week’s faculty meeting, the MIT Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons announced the formation of a subcommittee to collect feedback on the task force’s recommendations that were released in October 2006 and determine more specific recommendations for changing the curriculum.

The new subcommittee will provide a “final and specific” recommendation for the changes more generally suggested in the task force’s final report last year, Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support Diana Henderson said. The changes proposed earlier included possible revisions to the General Institute Requirements and increased emphasis on global education, as well as other curriculum reforms.

The subcommittee will be made up of six faculty and one student, and it will be expected to release its recommendation by the end of the academic year, Henderson said.

The task force has already been collecting feedback on the changes from faculty and students, and the new subcommittee will continue to collect feedback to guide curriculum recommendations. Input has been collected through discussions with the Undergraduate Association, online surveys, and discussions with academic departments, Henderson said.

Thus far, the task force has found several of its recommendations particularly controversial.

For students, the most disputed has been the suggestion for a more rigid Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences requirement, which reduces the number of humanities classes freshmen can take in an attempt to establish a common freshman humanities experience, Dean of Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings PhD ’80 said.

Some faculty have been vocal opponents of the recommendation to allow students the choice of five out of six classes in the science portion of the GIR requirements. There is also disagreement among faculty as to whether or not Electricity and Magnetism (8.02) should be required.

Both Henderson and Hastings said that the subcommittee’s most difficult task involves recommending changes to the undergraduate curriculum.

In order to change the curriculum, new classes need to be designed, Henderson said. Henderson said that pilot classes have been launched to examine new ways of teaching subjects with more multi-disciplinary subject matter.

Hastings said that students need more flexibility in the science curriculum, but determining exactly how much flexibility will be a challenge. For the humanities, Hastings said that more focus is needed in the course offerings, but balancing that focus with the choice and small classes students currently enjoy will be a challenge.

The task force’s recommendation to promote a more global education for students has received largely positive feedback, so work has already begun to implement it, Henderson said.

This past year, the task force worked to obtain funding for the Cambridge-MIT Exchange program, which saw its funding cut by the British government. Money was obtained to support MIT students in the program from MIT’s financial aid budget, Hastings said. This year, the program will aim for a class of 35 students.

The task force is also working with departments to make it easier for students to study abroad. Emphasis has been placed on supporting global education programs, like D-Lab, a course in which students engineer sustainable development projects for the developing world. Another supported initiative is the new undergraduate residence iHouse, a living community which focuses on global education.