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Frosh Give 8.01 Mixed Reviews

By Angela Liao

The newly restructured Physics I (8.01) has received mixed reviews from students, while Professor of Physics Wit Busza, coordinator of the new program, calls the format "a success."

"I like 8.01 better than my other classes," said Katherine Shih '98, a student in the class.

However, the sentiment is by no means universal. "Things vary too much from section to section," Olivia H. Song '98 said. "Some professors of 8.01 have better teaching skills then others."

The new format places more emphasis on "self-study," Busza said. The goals of the new format are to "teach the materials of 8.01 and to teach people how to learn," he said. "In the old system, the recitation classes were not uniform [in teaching quality]. They were not well-attended, and the faculty was not as actively involved as they are now," he said.

Despite this attitude, not all faculty have responded so positively to the changes. Professor Walter H. G. Lewin, who has taught 8.01 for three of the past four years, said that the old format "was usually well-received."

Lewin views the format of 8.01 as having been "changed for the sake of changing. Why fix something that ain't broke?" he said.

Still, the change is not without potential advantages, he said. If students benefit from the new system, their approval will be reflected in their ratings of the course in next term's Course Evaluation Guide. If they rated the course higher, he said, only then will the change be shown to have been worth it.

This is the first term that the new format is being used. The system, which consists of one full-sized lecture and three smaller recitations each week, replaces the traditional three lecture, two recitation system that has been used in years past.

According to a recent class survey conducted by 8.01 professors, of all the students taking 8.01, more than half gave the class seven or above on a scale of ten; and 15 percent of the students gave 8.01 a full score of ten. "I've never seen students so attentive in a class," Buzsa said. "Based on the survey, I say the class is a success."

Students like personal attention

Some students find the small classes - about 16 students each - and the Monday in-class demonstrations to be very helpful. "The professors and teaching assistants are trying their best to help people do well," Shirley Hung '98 said.

Others say that they enjoy the weekly lectures given by Busza.

"I'm a big fan of this class," Shih said. "I like the personal attention in the small recitation; it really helps."

The Thursday review sections are also well-received by the students. "They really help to clear things up before the [weekly] quizzes," which replace traditional problem sets in the new format, Shih added.

"Problem sets are meant to be a learning tool, not a test tool," Busza said. "People should not be doing problems just for the grades. The new format encourages students to help each other."

Students also like the fact that the answers to practice problems are included in the study guide.

Not all students are pleased

Some students are disturbed that the grading and teaching varies from class to class.

However, "the grades are adjusted for the ability and grading of professors, as well as for the ability of the class," Buzsa said.

The grades of students in different sections are equated to account for the disparity caused by differences in teaching styles and grading. Despite this system, the course is not graded on a curve. "I don't believe in curves, and I want everyone to do well. Everyone can do well in 8.01," Buzsa said.

"Also, the study guides, teaching assistants, and Thursday night tutorials are there to help in case one cannot receive enough help from their professors," Buzsa added.

Some students also complained that the study guide was hard-to-read.

"The study guide is meant to be a summary and there's always the textbook for the course," Buzsa said.

"There's not enough time in a week to get in-depth with all the problems," said Kim M. Levis '98.

For some, the perceived time constraint often means students only have time to learn how to solve problems. "That's a legitimate criticism," Busza said. and [professors] try to get away from that as much as possible," Buzsa said. "The Monday lectures are meant to present a global picture of the concepts to the students," and not just the problems, he said.

"We know that 8.01 is an important part of the MIT experience, and we want to make it a great experience," Buzsa added.

Lewin, on the other hand, sees the new system as a means to "force individual professors to get more involved." Students will benefit from the new system if "the bad professors improve on their student evaluations."

However, "It is not our task here at MIT to teach professors," Lewin said. He agrees with students that there is a chance that they may be forced to stay in a section taught by a less competent professor.

Referring to the complaints that students have about the course, Buzsa said, "I know it's hard, because there are so few concepts, but keep in mind this is a much tougher course of physics than what's being taught at other universities.

"But we are giving a course to match the basic intelligence of our fantastic students," Buzsa said. "Even if one's barely grasping the concepts in 8.01, they are doing a great job."