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EDP Proposes New First Year Program

By Matthew Palmer

The preliminary report of the Educational Design Project urges MIT to improve the first-year experience with increased hands-on learning and more integrated Institute requirements. The report may also lead to changes to the current pass/no record grading system for freshmen.

The EDP presented its report to the Committee on the Undergraduate Program in August, and CUP members are shaping their agendas for the current academic year around the project’s proposals. The report suggests, among other things, that MIT offer mini-courses to introduce engineering subjects, a project-oriented interdisciplinary subject, and introductory laboratory courses. The current science and humanities requirements will remain unchanged.

In addition, a new twelve unit class unique to each year (Mission [year of graduation]) would be required. This would focus on problem solving and integration of science classes and the humanities. Teams of five freshmen would work on one of ten projects related to a “vague but intellectually challenging mission.” At the end of the course, students would design a website to present their results.

Report tackles Task Force report

One problem the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning cited in its report was “the perceived lack of enthusiasm and excitement in the first-year program.” The report said that the combination of high work load, large lectures, and dry material too often discourages freshmen. The EDP hopes that the pilot programs will reinvigorate first-year students. However, the committee said they “want no changes that might ‘dumb-down’ the freshman year.”

The report recommends that subjects coordinate schedules such that freshmen will not have several projects or tests due at once. Also, they want to see a change from what they call the “lecture-problem set-quiz” routine to an “inquiry based” learning approach. The EDP report points out a lack of coherence and relevance among the core science subjects.

EDP Co-Chair and Professor of Media Arts and Sciences Stephen A. Benton ’63 said the group sought to “make the choice of major more visible and help freshman get involved in project work.” He said the new initiatives should not hold anyone back, but should instead “offer new options.”

Report reconsiders pass/no record

The report states that many first-years students are now taking upper level courses, and this “curriculum creep” may lead to changes in the current pass/no record system. The report presents several alternatives to the current pass/no record system, including eliminating pass/no record for the second semester of freshman year, assigning pass/no record status to only introductory courses, or allowing students to take one pass/no record class each year after the sophomore year. The CUP will now look into the best available option.

EDP’s future uncertain

The EDP was created last fall by the CUP and the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education. It was co-chaired by Professor Benton and the former Dean for Undergraduate Curriculum, Kip V. Hodges ’82.

The EDP hosted two meetings with both MIT alumni and current students to discuss their respective first-year experiences. The committee also sought input from faculty, freshman advisors, the Academic Services Staff, and science lecturers.

In the future, the EDP may become a new committee that would report to the CUP. The committee would consist of faculty representatives and one or two students. The EDP might also make recommendations that would be voted on by the entire faculty.