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No Required Classes During IAP

By Venkatesh Satish
Staff Reporter

Though the calendar changes made in spring 1993 allow departments to offer one requirement exclusively during Independent Activities Period starting with this academic year, departments have made few efforts to do so for IAP 1995.

"We've had some inquiries, but nothing is in place this year," said Professor of Media Arts and Sciences Stephen A. Benton '63, who heads the IAP Policy Committee.

There are a number of reasons for the slow progress, one of which is the time it takes to adapt current required courses to the IAP format, according to Benton.

"The best use of IAP for required courses is going to require a modularization of courses that doesn't exist yet. I think an ideal course is six units, and there aren't a lot of six-unit courses on hand."

Another reason for lack of such required courses this IAP is that departments cannot force students to take the class in a specific year, Benton said. "It's very difficult to think of a required course that doesn't have to happen at a precise moment in a student's career."

Also, "there's still the issue that [the class] should be a course for IAP, not just a compressed lecture course." These factors make it challenging to create required classes for IAP, Benton said.

Currently, the physics department is the only one that has concrete plans to offer mandatory courses exclusively during IAP, Benton said.

Physics will offer IAP lab

During IAP 1995, the physics department will offer Advanced Project Laboratory (8.122), a course that emphasizes computational experimentation, said Professor of Physics Hale V.D. Bradt PhD '61.

The laboratory course is one part of an entire curriculum revision in the Department of Physics, which will involve the addition of several courses in subsequent years, Bradt said. The project lab will "feature computerized data-taking and analysis capabilities in an effort to bring students closer to real life experimentation."

The rationale behind the change was to provide more theoretical background and add exciting topics, such as special relativity, to the physics program, Bradt said.

Physics majors in the Class of 1998 and future classes will have to take either 8.122 or Advanced Classical Mechanics (8.21), both six-unit classes, during one of their IAP's, Bradt said.

Another motivation for requiring courses over IAP was to give students time to focus on a single subject, Bradt said. "If someone immerses themselves in a topic for four weeks, it's a rich experience."

A further reason is that more faculty are available to teach classes during IAP, Bradt said. Also, "the [MIT] budget is squeezing the departments," so maximizing resources was a factor, he said.

Bradt said that adding a six-unit course would not be too much of a burden on students. "We're very sensitive to piling things on students and feel that this is a happy compromise. We feel we've done this at the right level without destroying the old spirit" of IAP.

This IAP, 8.112 will be taught by Professor of Physics Richard K. Yamamoto '57. The goal of the class is "mainly to have projects oriented toward data acquisition," Yamamoto said.

IAP 1995 will be a trial run for the new course, so the enrollment will be limited to 10 students, Yamamoto said. "I am still setting up the lab and [doing] a lot of debugging. Hopefully it will go okay."

IAP is growing

The number of credit activities offered during IAP has risen a great deal over the past few years, said Mary Z. Enterline, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

The number of subjects offered has grown steadily from 31 in IAP 1988 to 79 in the upcoming IAP, with the number of undergraduates registered for credit activities increasing from 283 in IAP 1988 to 1132 in IAP 1994, she said.

Enterline believes that IAP is ideally suited to certain types of subjects, such as the LEGO Robot Design Competition (6.270) and language courses.

In addition, the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences "organizes some trips which were credit courses. IAP is uniquely suited for trips like these," Enterline said.

"The demand for credit subjects has not yet been met," Enterline said, adding that the increase in IAP credit activities should continue. She also said that allowing departments to offer requirements exclusively during IAP would contribute to the trend.