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TEAL: A Second Opinion

Elizabeth Chhouk

I wish to clear up misconceptions introduced by the Tech column by Aditya Kohli published on May 2, “TEAL: Building Resistance.”

Technology-Enhanced Active Learning was developed to lessen the distance between an instructor and his or her students (figuratively and literally), as well as reduce the impression many freshmen have that physics is an abstract theory separate from the real world. The smaller classes in the well-lit rooms, as well as the round-table arrangement, provide a unique experience; the division of the class into groups encourages familiarity between classmates sharing table, as well as intelligent discussion during collaborative activities. Integrated experiments are designed to provide context for the material, which is especially useful in electromagnetism, where all of the concepts are abstract.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to clear up the misconceptions:

• “The main reason for ‘improvements in student performance’ after switching to the TEAL system can be accounted for by the mandatory attendance.”

This seems to imply that students are sponges that absorb information through osmosis. Of course greater exposure to a topic generally leads to greater familiarity with it, but how much a student learns is also dependent on the active role that student takes in mastering the material.

• “TEAL professors must adhere to a standard presentation,” and “students are forced to stare at PowerPoint presentations for hours on end.”

While there are PowerPoint presentations prepared far in advance, it is ultimately up to the lecturers to decide how to convey that material to the students. Professor Dourmashkin, for example, follows the basic outline suggested by the presentation, but prefers to teach using the white boards.

• “There are no recitations. Instead, there are office hours, which are crowded and ineffective.”

Traditional physics recitations were often just like lecture, therefore TEAL course administrators decided to replace them with class. “Office hours are traditional office hours,” Professor Eric Hudson has told me. “We just try to have more of them.” Indeed, there are many options for students, some of which are held at unusual yet extremely convenient hours, e.g. 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. the night before problem sets are due. It is the rare case they are overcrowded, and yet in that event, the instructors manage to impart a fair amount of information. Also, many of the professors and Teaching Assistants are very friendly when it comes to helping students understand sticky points.

• “The small groups force the brighter students to complete most of the experiments and group problems, while leaving those momentarily less capable behind.”

TEAL rightfully assumes that small groups of three will be able to collaborate to learn from an experiment or in-class problem; hence the set-up of the thirteen round tables. TEAL stands for “technology-enhanced active learning,” and it counts on students assuming an aggressive role in their education.

I feel many of the complaints about TEAL are fueled by things heard from other students, and not objective criticisms of the actual teaching format. Even I tried to avoid TEAL by taking 8.012 (a more theoretical course in classical mechanics) last semester, a decision based on hearsay. This semester, however, I am taking 8.02T, which took some getting used to, but overall I am satisfied with the learning experience. I am fairly familiar with the professor for my section and have no problem talking to any of the TAs, contrary to the objection raised in Tuesday’s column, and I find that when I understand the experiments, they help piece together my understanding of electromagnetism. Anyone with valid complaints should not be afraid to send an e-mail to their professor, one of the TAs or Professor Eric Hudson, the course administrator. They will take you seriously and really try to work with you to help improve your learning experience.

Elizabeth Chhouk is a member of the Class of 2009.