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Physics Reading Room Likely to House TEAL

Fifth Floor of Student Center Ruled Out

By Pey-Hua Hwang

STAFF REPORTER

MIT administrators have indicated that the physics reading room will probably house the upcoming Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) project.

Professor of Physics John W. Belcher said that the study space on the fifth floor of the Student Center is officially out of consideration and that the physics reading room is well suited to the project’s purpose.

Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine described his feelings towards the project as being “cautiously optimistic.” His biggest concerns are the shortage of space at MIT and the increased pressure to select a location soon to ensure the project’s completion by this fall. “Obviously things have to start happening quickly,” he said.

Student Center space ruled out

Although the idea of using the fifth floor of the Student Center was dismissed, its consideration is a symptom of the lack of space within the Institute. The use of the Student Center space was initially proposed after discussion between Space Administrator John P. Dunbar of the Facilities Department, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, and others.

“There were a lot of people involved,” said Redwine. He mentioned that “one of the attractions was ... we felt it could be done in a way to preserve the current use of the space.”

However, Redwine said that “a lot of students said that this would be a loss to them, and the idea was put to the wayside. Most recently the plan that was floated was to use the physics reading room.”

Reading room likely to move

Professor and Associate Department Head for Education Thomas J. Greytak ’62 said that “the Physics Department is willing to turn over the current reading room space to TEAL if the upper administration will give us suitable space for relocation of the reading room.” His words were supported by a positive response of the physics faculty at a luncheon held yesterday to discuss the move. “The department seems happy with this other space available,” said Belcher.

When asked where the room would be relocated, Redwine said that he would prefer not to release more details because “space is a sensitive issue” and he didn’t want to interfere with negotiations. “It might turn out that we could relocate the reading room in a temporary location.”

Belcher, however, mentioned that the final location of the reading room might be on the second floor of Building 6.

Belcher devised TEAL concept

Belcher also discussed the origins and his vision for the future of the TEAL program. He said that he developed the idea when, after lecturing 8.02 for three years, he found himself teaching in lecture halls only 50 percent full by the end of the semester. “I didn’t think it was effective,” he reflected. He felt that with a hands-on approach it was possible to “learn things at a much deeper level with the same amount of effort.”

The purpose of the program is to engage students more personally in the process of learning introductory physics. According to the TEAL proposal, students will share laptops in groups of three, with nine students at each of about a dozen round tables in one classroom. A professor will be present for instruction and for help with lab experiments.

Belcher feels that the biggest difficulty in getting the project off the ground was the relative lack of space. He said that Professor Marc A. Kastner, head of the Physics Department, had mentioned that space, not money, was the major concern. With the space, Belcher said that he would have many white boards and four or five screens for projecting the work of students. He said that what he was most looking forward to was “the interaction between students and faculty.”

He also said that he has been working with Professor Peter Dourmashkin, Vice President and Dean For Research J. David Litster, and ten UROP students to put together sets of desktop experiments and discussion questions. He also said that the Center for Education and Computing Initiatives is compiling animations and simulations for the class. “A whole host of people are working on software,” he said.

TEAL is funded by the d’Arbeloff Initiative, the MIT/Microsoft I-Campus Alliance, the National Science Foundation, and other sources.