New MEng, Sloan MBA degrees top academic changesBy Venkatesh Satish
A variety of academic changes were made throughout the Institute this past year, most notably the addition of Master of Engineering degree programs by three departments, a change in the format of Physics I (8.01), the approval of the Master of Business Administration program, and improvements in the Registrar's Office.
The faculty approved in November new MEng programs for the Departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Ocean Engineering. The Course XVI and Course I degrees are designed for undergraduate students looking for a one-year graduate program and will be offered starting this September.
The Department of Ocean Engineering, which began to offer the 12- to 18-month program in September, hopes to attract students looking for a fifth-year professional degree, graduate students interested in a second degree, and mid-career people from government and industry.
None of these programs will replace the existing Master of Science degrees in the departments, which usually require two years for completion.
The Course XVI program "is a structured master's program emphasizing multidisciplinary instruction, product design, and a design thesis," said Head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Earll M. Murman. "The MEng and SM offer complementary options for graduate students. The MEng is focused on design and the SM on research," he added.
Students in these programs are expected to be self-supporting or will have other financial support, such as fellowships, company sponsorships, or student loans.
The Course I MEng program was developed in order to help students build skills necessary for a successful practice and will emphasize teamwork, according to Professor Rafael L. Bras '72, head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Changes in 8.01
Many MIT undergraduates take Physics I (8.01) during their freshman year. This past fall, the format of the class was extensively changed.
The new format implemented smaller recitations of about 16 students, with two such recitations a week. In addition, there was one large lecture each Monday which also included demonstrations. This reflects a difference from the previous system of three lectures and two recitations every week.
Also, the class had no graded homework, though practice problems were given to students in a detailed study guide. In order to monitor their progress, students were given short weekly quizzes which contributed to the final grade.
The 300-page study guide included a brief overview and list of aims for each covered topic. It also contained a set of sample quiz questions, fully-worked example problems, and regular problems with hints and answers.
Students taking 8.01 had mixed reactions to the format of the course. Some expressed their enjoyment of the class, while others complained that there was too great a difference in the teaching abilities of the recitation instructors.
Professor Wit Busza, the lecturer for the new 8.01, said in an interview last fall that over half the class gave the course 7 or above out of 10 in a mid-term class survey. "Based on the survey, I say the class is a success," he said.
Despite this attitude, not all faculty responded so positively to the changes. Professor of Physics Walter H. Lewin, who taught the old version of 8.01, objected to the changes in the course. Lewin views 8.01 as having been "changed for the sake of changing. Why fix something that ain't broke?" he said last fall. "8.01 ain't broke."
Lewin sees the new system as a means to "force individual professors to get more involved." Students would only benefit from the system if "the bad professors improve on their student evaluations."
However, "it is not our task here at MIT to teach performance," Lewin added. He also said that the changes will only have been shown to be worth it if students rate the course higher in the next Course Evaluation Guide.
The differences in teaching styles and ability were accounted for by an adjustment in grading, Busza said. Despite this normalization, the course was not graded on a curve, with the pass/fail mark set at 55 percent at the beginning of the term, he said.
Professor of Physics George F. Koster '48, who helped run the course, also said the course was a success. The course was "sufficiently [successful] that we'll do it again," he said.
The course will be completely reviewed by the physics department after the spring term, he said. Students who took the new version of 8.01 will be polled after they take Physics II (8.02) to see which they prefer; 8.02 is offered in a traditional lecture/recitation style. "We'd like all the data before we do the modifications," Koster added.
According to the Undergraduate Academic Support Office, 574 students in 8.01 were given grades last term. Of those students, 77, or 13 percent of the class, failed. The previous year, 88 of 559 students, or 16 percent, failed the class.
Early in 1994, the Sloan School's new MBA degree with an optional thesis was approved by the faculty. First-year master's students in the Sloan School last year were the first to be given the option to pursue an MBA.
The Sloan School had considered revamping the curriculum and making the thesis optional for some time, according to Paul M. Healy, a former deputy dean of the Sloan School.
With an optional thesis, "it made more sense to call [the degree] an MBA," Healy said. Sloan will continue to offer the SM with a 24-unit thesis, and those who write a thesis may receive either degree.
Registration services revamped
There were also changes in the Student Information System and the Registrar's Office during the last year. A revised and optimized SIS was released in early November and affected registration, transcripts, Bursar's Office bills, financial aid forms, and departmental information, according to James J. Culliton, vice president for administration.
SIS access on the Athena Computing Environment did not change because of difficulties with updating the Athena program, said Registrar David S. Wiley '61.
Transcripts will now be prepared electronically, a move that represents a major improvement in quality and speed, Wiley said.
The Bursar's Office bill was redesigned to be more readable and understandable. The bill now lists individual transactions, Culliton said.
Students also received new randomly-assigned MIT ID numbers in order to address privacy issues, Wiley said. Students will still be able to use their old ID numbers when completing forms, he said.
In addition, a new final exam scheduling system allows better tailoring of exam schedules and better management of conflict exams.