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This Week in MIT History

By Caroline Chang

Thirty years ago, in a room full of MIT faculty, the idea of a month long independent study period was greeted with overwhelming approval. Thus, the Independent Activities Period was born.

Originally, IAP was conceptualized as a period in which students or departments could propose projects which would then be funded by the school. Unfortunately, out of the first year’s total of twenty-one proposals, only three were approved.

As a result of this new break between semesters, there was also an increase in the numbers of incomplete marks received by students, especially freshmen in Calculus (18.01). This increase in the number of incomplete marks was attributed to the self-paced nature of the newly restructured class. Students were allowed to take the six exams of the class at any point during the term. With a relatively free January, many students opted to accept a grade of incomplete and finish the course during IAP.

With the institution of this new system, several changes had to be made to the existing academic schedule. To make time for IAP, the fall term had to begin slightly earlier. The curriculum also had to be condensed to fit into the shortened semesters. Also, for the first time, exams were scheduled to be taken before winter break.

Radhika Baliga and Linda Liang contributed to the reporting of this story