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Few Attend Writing Requirement Forum

By Nomi Giszpenc
Staff Reporter

Only a handful of students showed up Monday to an open forum on the writing requirement. The forum was designed for students to express opinions on the new writing requirement proposal.

The proposed changes would mandate that students take a "communication intensive" class each of their four years at the Institute. ["Committee Plans to Revamp Institute Writing Requirement," Sept. 20]

The forum, sponsored by the Undergraduate Association, was attended mostly by students from the UA Council and campus media.

The turnout was low because students don't feel they will be affected by this new policy, which will take full effect in seven years, said UA President Richard Y. Lee '97.

The two main goals of the forum were to solicit student input and to present the findings and current recommendations of the Committee on the Writing Requirement. In the absence of students, the committee could only realize the second of these goals.

Communication skills stressed

One of the reasons MIT is concerned about its writing requirement as it stands is the importance of communication in the workplace, said Committee Chair Kip V. Hodges PhD '82, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences.

Potential employers have been saying that their "most desirable employees are those who can communicate with others," including those outside their fields, Hodges said.

Also, informal studies show that MIT students have the same level of writing and communication skills upon graduating as they did coming in, suggesting that the current program has a "marginal, invisible effect" to these abilities, said Head of the Writing Program Alan P. Lightman.

The two ways of approaching the problem are to tweak the current system so that it works better, or to decide that the problem is much more systemic, Hodges said. The committee has adopted the latter approach.

The problem is very deep, Lightman said. "We need to change the culture at MIT."

At the same time, several boundary conditions place severe limits on the extent of change the committee can suggest. Committee members recognize the heavy workload of both students and faculty but maintain that students have to do a lot more writing and get a lot more feedback from professors.

The biggest change is that Phase I and Phase II will be end-product oriented, Hodges said. He would like to see the requirement evolve into more of a process.

Students could help teach courses

Writing skills are like a muscle - if they are not exercised they atrophy, Hodges said. If students have to take at least one communication intensive course a year, they will not lose their writing abilities.

However, the committee would like to see different work, not additional work,Hodges said. A lot of the certified classes would probably be existing classes either modified or with attached practica.

These classes could be taught by graduate students who "can be good teachers [and] have technical knowledge which can add value to the experience," said Coordinator of the Writing Requirement and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Leslie C. Perelman.

Seniors, who could satisfy a requirement by being graders for freshman and sophomore writing courses, would improve their own skills while remaining focused in their fields.

"The logic of the sequencing [of the proposed courses] is to move people increasingly into their profession as writers," said Associate Professor of Political Science Charles Stewart III.

The presidential task force on student life and learning may address the underlying philosophy of education at MIT, Hodges said. He personally would like to see a more integrated curriculum, agreeing with Stewart that "thinking has to shift from discrete boxes."

There will probably be another forum this semester, Lee said.