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Changes Announced in 8.01

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate News Editor

Beginning next fall, Physics I (8.01) will be restructured to include one full-sized lecture and two smaller lectures each week. The new program will replace the current three lecture, two recitation system, according to program coordinator Professor Wit Busza.

Students will learn most of the material through the smaller lectures, with "20 professors teaching 20 classes of 16 students each," Busza said. The lectures will not function as traditional recitations, but will be the primary means of instruction for the course, he said.

One important aspect of the program is "shifting the responsibility more onto the students so that they will have more responsibility for the way that they learn," said Visiting Scientist Susan Cartwright, who is helping to write the course notes. It will be "better for students, better for staff," she said.

"Teachers and students will form an alliance ensuring that the students will get the best possible mark on the test," Cartwright said. "We're trying to provide more of a partnership in learning the material."

For example, professors will not know which questions will appear on the weekly exams ahead of time, Busza said.

However, the program has met with some opposition from students and faculty. Professor Walter H. G. Lewin, who has taught 8.01 for three of the past four years, feels that the new course "will fall far short of what it wants to achieve," in terms of quality of student involvement and quality of teaching, he said.

Based on Princeton program

The decision to redesign 8.01 was made because the physics faculty was unhappy with the way it worked, Cartwright said. The department set up a committee to find "alternative methods to try and improve the situation," she said.

The committee, headed by Busza, contacted several universities about their physics programs. A program at Princeton University was selected as the model, Cartwright said.

"It inevitably works better to do the teaching in groups with smaller numbers," said Princeton Professor Joseph Taylor, who recently taught their equivalent to 8.01.

However, he said that there is some concern that the course "has become primarily a mechanism for teaching physics problems" and that less time is spent on discussing important concepts.

At Princeton, students are allowed to switch between lecturers, although professors discourage it, Taylor said. The Princeton course also includes a laboratory component.

`If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

"The lecturer is the intellectual and inspirational focus of the course," Lewin said. But with 20 separate lecturers, the quality of instruction will vary from class to class, and students might "get stuck with mediocre teaching," he said.

Lewin also disagrees with the new policy which does not allow transfers between lecturers. "A large number of students are going to be unhappy," and forbidding transfers is an "insult to the students," he said.

Elizabeth Cooper, administrative officer for the physics department, countered, "Anytime you change a course like this there are always going to be people who think it's going to work and people who think it's not going to work."

The change was not necessarily because the course needed to be fixed, but the department "just wanted to try something that more actively involved the students in the teaching and learning process," Cooper said.

However, Lewin feels that the current version of 8.01 works well. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "8.01 ain't broke."

Not enough discussion

"While I think that these changes have some interesting aspects, I don't believe that students have had enough of an opportunity to comment on them," said Raajnish A. Chitaley '95, head of the Undergraduate Association Committee on Educational Policy.

"It seems that the physics department used a rather unorthodox and closeted approach" in changing the course, said UA President Hans C. Godfrey '93. "There has not been enough community-wide discussion."

Students expressed concern over some of the other changes to 8.01. "There are not going to be 20 great professors," said Daniel P. Quintanilla '95. "Some people coming in need a better teacher than others."

In response to the new no-homework policy, Randall T. Whitman '94 said, "Problem sets are pretty important to 8.01" for learning the material. There should also be more classroom hours in the new program, he said.

Course changes explained

The full-sized lectures will primarily present demonstrations and "perhaps a little bit of a global philosophical outline" for the course, according to Busza, who will be the primary lecturer.

A package of course notes will replace the textbook as the central learning tool in the course, providing a "well-defined curriculum with no ambiguity," Busza said. The notes will tell students "in detail what they are supposed to learn."

The professors will "try to help the students as much as possible," Busza said. To provide additional instruction to students, many professors and teaching assistants will be available to assist the students every Thursday evening for two hours, according to Busza.

"Whether this experiment is a success or a failure depends to a large extent on the perception the students have," Busza said. It is "very important for the students to realize that this is different, and they should not be influenced by upperclassmen."

If the program is successful, it may be extended to all versions of 8.01 and Physics II (8.02).