Task Force releases report on proposed education reforms

Final report deals with residential education, MIT’s worldwide impact, and possible new revenue streams

The Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, whose scope is as sweeping as it sounds, wants to rethink pedagogy at MIT and enable “modularity” and “flexibility” in courses.

The Task Force’s final report was released last month. Recommendations ranged from devising a new system of generating revenue for education to creating new special programs within the Institute such as the Undergraduate Teaching Opportunities Program (UTOP), modeled on the popular Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).

In his charge, President L. Rafael Reif divided the Task Force into three working groups: the Working Group on MIT Education and Facilities for the Future, the Working Group on the Future Global Implications of edX and the Opportunities It Creates, and the Working Group on a New Financial Model for Education. These three groups were chaired by Professor Karen Willcox PhD ’00, Professor Sanjay E. Sarma, the Director of Digital Learning, and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz GM ’01, respectively.

On MIT Education and Facilities for the Future

In the report, Willcox’s working group outlined potential new programs that would respond to student input to the Task Force and carry out the fundamental mission of teaching and learning at MIT.

The UTOP is one program in the list of pilot projects relating to “shaping the future MIT graduate.” It would be part of a larger educational initiative that formalizes the opportunities that exist for teaching at MIT, including the MIT teaching certificate awarded by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. This initiative “could become an intellectual home for programs around education which might include the certificates that exist already, a new masters program that’s being launched, to less formal teaching opportunities”, stated Willcox.

Another new program proposed by the working group is the Undergraduate Service Opportunities Program (USOP). The program was conceived as a formal way for students to work with faculty members to combine service with their educational experiences.

Willcox explained, “One of the things that’s changed is students’ interest in global impact and service … there just seems to be a growing demand. We have some fabulous programs on campus already in various places like D-Lab and MISTI. To think about creating a program that’s more of an integrated part of the academic experience … seems like it would be favorable.”

Apart from the UTOP and USOP, Willcox’s group examined the need to improve the GIR system and introduce more flexibility in the common core of MIT’s education. Willcox also noted the struggle of making sure freshmen still receive a great MIT education in the face of possible failures in the experimental GIR classes.

On the Future Global Implications of edX and the Opportunities It Creates

Sarma’s working group, on the future global implications of edX, paid particular attention to increasing the reach of MIT’s educational impact. The Task Force looked to modularity and blended learning to achieve this goal.

While not giving specific ways to alleviate diversity concerns, the Task Force recognizes that certain demographics (women and students with less than a secondary education) are underrepresented in MITx courses. In the long term, the Task Force hopes to “design a system of accountability to ensure that its outreach strategy is continuously practiced and revised.”

The Task Force also hopes to broaden the areas that MITx covers. Citing the example of ChicagoX, an experiment where MIT alumni taught computer science MITx courses in urban Chicago, the report encourages more student engagement between the MIT community and the world.

On a New Financial Model for Education

This part of the Task Force report noted the change in the “campus revenue mix” as a reason to create new revenue streams for the Institute. Given the inflating cost of a college education, the Task Force looked to increasing the affordability and access of an MIT education.

Such changes require “increases in undergraduate class size so that more students can experience the rich magic of an MIT residential education” and “faculty growth required to accommodate the needs of a growing student body.”

In order to offset the outlays associated with the expansion of the student and faculty body, the report provided a couple of recommendations that would be pursued by an ad hoc working group. Among these recommendations are the enhancing of the mission of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office (TLO) and the creation of an MIT venture fund used to support student and faculty.

Ruiz said that while MIT’s revenue model will be largely unchanged from the standard revenue mix in the near term, Ruiz’s group also proposed extending “MIT’s access and engagement opportunities via new types of certifications” like MITx and XSeries certificates to generate more revenue for the Institute.