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Classes over IAP Center Increasingly Around Academics

By Winnie Choi

With the increase in the number of credit courses offered during Independent Activities Period, there has been a rising concern that MIT students' annual break in January is becoming more and more academically oriented.

IAP - originally designed as a way for students to take less stressful and more interesting classes between the fall and spring semesters - has for some departments become a time to squeeze in undergraduate classes.

Some departments have chosen to offer some required classes during IAP and only IAP, meaning that students in those departments will be obliged to stay at the Institute for at least one January during their undergraduate years to complete their degree requirements.

The Department of Physics requires students to take either Classical Mechanics II (8.21) or Advanced Project Laboratory (8.122), while the Department of Mechanical Engineering requires Mechanical Engineering Tools (2.670), all of which are offered exclusively in January.

More responsibility for education

The increasing number of credit courses offered during IAP resulted from the calendar change proposed in 1993 by former Chair of Faculty Robert L. Jaffe, said Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Mary Z. Enterline.

There was a huge debate over whether IAP should be extended from its length at the time of three weeks to its present length of four weeks, Enterline said. The faculty voted to approve the increase and also agreed that each department could offer one of its intensive required classes during IAP.

With IAP extended to four weeks, some departments hope to place more responsibility for academics during IAP, Enterline said.

But the aim is not to increase the actual load of academic subjects by transforming it to a compressed semester; rather, it is to encourage students to stay for at least one out of four IAPs, she said.

"There may be a trend for IAP becoming more academics-oriented in the future," said Undergraduate Academic Affairs Program Administrator Marshall Hughes. "We are trying to have more humanities class offerings to take a balance between science and engineering classes."

There is always a demand for enough non-academic options, too, Marshall said. "We're trying to find a happy balance between the two of them," he said

Classes allow for some flexibility

The arrangement does to some extent allow for more flexibility for students.

Classes like the extended version of Physics I (8.01L) and the combined versions of Calculus I and II (18.01A and 18.02A) - the end of which can be taken during IAP - can provide more options for students to choose their best-suited class pace.

The physics department believes that 8.122, a laboratory subject, may give students a good opportunity to gain laboratory experience.

"It is good for students to concentrate on doing labs and research during a focused time period than during regular terms," said June L. Matthews PhD '62, the academic officer of the physics department.

Physics majors have relatively few research opportunities aside from required classes and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program projects, Matthews said.

The new classes will help strengthen the undergraduate curriculum and make MIT physics majors more competitive with physics majors from other top schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, she said.

Students urged to participate

"IAP can be used by students in a variety of ways," said President of the IAP Student Board Ingrid M. Ulbrich '98. "We would like to promote the spirit of IAPand encourage the students to participate in IAP. Classes like 8.21 or 2.670 are only six units each, so there are still lots of options for students."

Students who are members of sports teams, however, have run into some problems.

Members of the crew team, for example, may have to schedule around conflicts because they are expected to go to Florida for spring training for two weeks during IAP.

"I will do 2.670 in the first two weeks" of IAP, said Sabina Ma '99, a mechanical engineering major. "Then I will probably go to Florida for the last two weeks in IAP."