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Engineering program discussed

[mk1]By David P. Hamilton

Jack L. Kerrebrock, associate dean of engineering, joined seven students, two faculty members and three representatives of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, last night at a society-sponsored forum on the future of MIT's engineering curriculum.

The Commission on Engineering Undergraduate Education, which Kerrebrock chairs, is studying the MIT undergraduate engineering curriculum while the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Committee and the School of Science Education Committee study their respective areas, Kerrebrock said.

Students at the forum expressed their suggestions for commission topics: freshman and upperclass advising; lectures; and problem sets.


Most students were dissatisfied with the current freshman advising system. Their complaints centered on their advisors' narrowness and inability to provide them with information outside the scope of their own fields.

Several students also asked why upperclass advising was such a low-priority task for most faculty members. Kerrebrock responded by admitting that the current organization of the advising system "doesn't work very well."

Faculty priorities are "promotion, tenure and money," said a humanities professor attending the forum. Advising gets placed on a "back burner," he said, because these rewards depend almost solely on a professor's teaching or research performance.


The students had divided opinions about the value of lectures. Some felt that lectures repeated material in course notes and text books unnecessarily. But others disagreed, saying that they found the lecturer's perspective useful in<>

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understanding the course.

Kerrebrock entertained the proposal that lectures be eliminated entirely, to be replaced by personal work with faculty members in small groups in what he called "a big tutorial." He envisioned more project-oriented work in which students would hold the primary responsibility for learning material themselves.

Problem sets

Most students agreed that MIT places too much emphasis on problem sets as a method for learning material. "If I do a problem set, well, four weeks later it's gone," said one student. "But if I've written a paper or done a project, I'll remember that for a long time."

Students do not remember problem sets as well as other work because they are following someone else's thoughts rather than their own, Kerrebrock said. Those present expressed overwhelming agreement when he suggested that courses should emphasize projects and case studies as an alternative to, but not in addition to, some problem sets.

Present and future forums

Holding the forum late in the term made it difficult for many students to attend, said another student. Tau Beta Pi representative David DiPietro '86 explained, however, that the society had scheduled the conference in order to allow students eligible for membership to complete a project before their elections in January.

DiPietro added that the society plans to schedule a similar forum next term at a time more convenient to students. The society will also conduct a survey next Registration Day based on information gathered during last night's forum, he added.