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6.003 format changes to add four projects

By Adnan H. Lawai

Changes have been made to the format and teaching style of Signals and Systems (6.003) this term, according to Professor William M. Siebert '46. The changes will not affect the content of the material taught, Siebert said.

Students enrolled in this spring's version of 6.003 will work on four projects. Part of each week's homework will be a piece of an ongoing project, according to Siebert, who is lecturing the subject this term.

Students in last fall's version of 6.003 were required to do two projects as a major part of their course syllabus. This marked a significant change from previous versions of 6.003, which did not include any such extensive projects.

According to Siebert, who has been teaching 6.003 for a number of terms, the change was part of the department's continuing efforts to improve the format of the subject and make it more project-oriented.

As part of these efforts, computer work was introduced into the subject in 1984. Professor Gerald J. Sussman '68, who developed the course in association with Siebert and other faculty members, said that it was hoped that the introduction of computers into the course would enable students to better understand and apply the concepts that they had learned. This move stimulated new problem sets emphasizing creativity, he said.

The more extensive projects introduced last term built upon the project idea. It was hoped that students would have more of a chance to work on the things that interested them. In addition, students were given the opportunity to submit project papers for Phase II of the Writing requirement, according to Siebert.

"Educationally, it was a definite success," Siebert said. Students appreciated the opportunity to work on projects, and faculty members thought that the changes were "valuable," Siebert added.

The projects, however, were "a lot of work" for both students and staff alike, Siebert remarked. Some students spent more than 40 hours on each project. The 6.003 staff had to spend more than an hour correcting each student's work. This led to last term's experiment becoming "a very expensive process," Siebert explained.

The projects were not expected to be such a big time commitment. They were planned to take about 20 hours each, according to Siebert. In spite of the extra time required by students for the projects, quality of work was not as good as expected. As a result, staff members also required more time to correct each student's work.

This spring's version of 6.003 will preserve some of the flexibility introduced last term and the idea of having large projects spread over weeks, said George C. Verghese, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and co-lecturer for the subject this term.

Projects have been made part of homework assignments in order to prevent last-minute work by students, Siebert said. Students will be required to do some writing in their problem sets in order to explain the project part of their homework assignments. Students will again have the opportunity to write a paper to satisfy Phase II of the Writing requirement. Unlike last term, the paper will be optional this term, Siebert explained.

The changes introduced in last fall's version of 6.002 were a matter of teaching style, according to Sussman, who lectured the subject. Every instructor has a unique teaching style, and he brought his to 6.002, Sussman noted. The content of the course, however, remained unchanged, he remarked.

He said that his style had made the subject more "real life," but at the same time "more abstract and harder." He noted that he taught the course at a faster pace than usual. "I think people were more scared by my personality than by anything else," he remarked. Nonetheless, he thought that students on the whole did "very well," remarking that MIT undergraduates were the "very best in the whole world."

Associate Professor Hae-Sung Lee, who will be lecturing 6.002 this spring, said that this spring's version of 6.002 will follow closely the spring 1988 version of the subject. He does not plan to continue with most of the changes in format introduced by Sussman, he remarked.