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Students Petition Against TEAL

By Lauren E. LeBon


MIT has been quick to sing the praises of the Technology Enabled Active Learning version of 8.02, but more than 150 students are humming a different tune.

A petition submitted to the physics department Wednesday asks MIT to halt the proposed expansion of the program, questioning its efficacy.

Juliana D. Olmstead ’06 started the petition. “I got fed up and thought ‘why isn’t anyone doing something about it?’ so I decided that I might as well,” Olmstead said.

The statement reads: “8.02 TEAL does not provide us with the intellectual challenge and stimulation that can be expected from a course at MIT.

“We feel that the quality of our education has been compromised for the sake of ‘trying something different.’ We strongly advise that the traditional 8.02 course be reinstated as soon as possible. 8.02 TEAL could remain as an option, which will give TEAL an opportunity to evolve. However, it should not be forced upon the majority of the student body.”

Petitioners seek other options

The petition suggests that the TEAL version of 8.02 remain as an option, but that it not be imposed on the freshman class. In addition, the petition advises the physics department not to expand the TEAL program to 8.01, as has been planned.

Olmstead explained that the final version of the petition did not list specific grievances since different students may have different complaints. Olmstead wanted to write something that “everyone would agree with.”

“I started to list things, but I realized if I tried to list everything, it’d be a five-page-long essay,” Olmstead said. “Basically, it’s just saying, ‘wake up, physics department.’”

Lewin supports old 8.02 format

Physics Professor Walter H. Lewin was the instructor for the lecture-recitation version of 8.02 last Spring.

“There is a whole spectrum of problems” [with the TEAL format Lewin said. “Many students are really angry.”

“Most complain that TEAL is not helping them to learn, so they are on their own,” Lewin said. “Without recitation, the students are missing the ins and outs of problem solving.”

Lewin said the problem with the TEAL format of 8.02 is that too many professors are required to lecture.

“How many professors are truly excellent lecturers? Not many. If they were all as good as John Belcher, it would be wonderful,” Lewin said. “To zero and first order, the success of a course is determined by who lectures, not the format.”

Lewin said that several students watch his 8.02 lectures from last year on the web during their class. Since the beginning of the term, Lewin has seen the hits on his Web site go up.

However, Lewin said that TEAL still has potential to be successful with further development. “In a few years, TEAL may evolve into a very wonderful program,” Lewin said. “It may turn out to be wonderful, but right now, it’s not working.”

Students dislike TEAL system

“I don’t like that they don’t lecture, and when they do they just read off of Powerpoint slides,” said Lauren A. Jones ’06, who signed Olmstead’s petition.

Patrick M. Boyle ’06 also signed the petition. “I feel that we’re not getting as much one-on-one instruction time as we would with the lecture-recitation format,” Boyle said. “TEAL would be more effective if Friday workshop were replaced with Friday recitation.”

TEAL staff responds to input

Professor John W. Belcher is the principal investigator for the TEAL program. Belcher said he is aware of the complaints, and has arranged for “focus groups” with students and an impartial observer to discuss what works and does not work in 8.02.

Belcher said that the main complaints were the time allotted for experiments, the use of Powerpoint presentations in lectures, and worksheets.

Belcher also said that modifications will be made after spring break. More time will be given for experiments so that that students can understand them “more in context,” Belcher said. Powerpoint presentations will be left in favor of more board work. Meanwhile, the worksheets, which before were just checked for completion, will be graded during class.

“Spring break gives us a chance to reformulate things,” Belcher said. “What we’re doing is fine-tuning.”

Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine said he was not surprised to see some criticism. “Whenever you introduce a drastic change, it’s common to get a fair amount of negative response at first,” Redwine said. “We certainly do plan to consider feedback.”

TEAL set to expand to 8.01

Professor Marc A. Kastner, head of the physics department, said that the plan is to eventually merge 8.02X into the TEAL program, leaving 8.022 as the only alternative to the TEAL version of 8.02.

As for 8.01, the Physics department performed a small-scale project with 8.01 TEAL this fall, and plans to convert the entire 8.01 program to TEAL in the fall of 2005.

Professor David S. Jerison, a mathematics professor and member of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, said that though the committee does not have direct control over the TEAL program, that it does have the power to withhold further funding to expand TEAL.

Jerison said the Mathematics department, though far from perfect, offers “competing flavors” of its classes to give students a choice on which format they would like to try.

TEAL began in 2001

The TEAL program began in 2001 with grants from iCampus and the d’Arbeloff fund.

TEAL combines computer problems, hands-on experiments, and group activities into the normal class time. MIT spent $1.5 million to renovate 26-152, changing the physics reading room into the current TEAL room.