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Course VI Classes To Change Beginning Fall 2008

By Joyce Kwan

The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is overhauling its curriculum to allow students more flexibility within the department; most of the changes will be implemented in Fall 2007.

As approved by the Committee on the Curricula this month, the department will make two new introductory classes mandatory for new EECS majors beginning in Fall 2008: Introduction to EECS I (6.081) and Introduction to EECS (6.082), both of which have been offered as elective courses for the past few semesters. Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001) will be phased out. Beginning in Fall 2007, 6.081 and 6.082 will be offered as 6.01 and 6.02, respectively.

For current students, taking the 12 unit 6.081 along with the three unit 6.188 supplement, which focuses on the Scheme language, fulfills the 6.001 requirement.

Discussions on the changes began roughly two years ago, while Provost L. Rafael Reif was still head of the department, according to EECS Professor George C. Verghese, a member of the committee in charge of re-evaluating the curriculum. The department decided on the need for overhaul because the structure of the curriculum has remained nearly unchanged for about 30 years, he said.

The two new subjects, 6.081 and 6.082, have already been implemented and this spring will mark their third and second offering, respectively. They were designed to offer students an alternate introduction to the department, one that covers a broad spectrum of the field.

EECS Department Head W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 said, “We wanted to develop an introduction to the department that responds to several important pedagogical issues: it should cut more broadly across all of EECS, it should have a strong hands-on experience, and it should engage students in more direct contact with teaching staff than the traditional lecture/recitation format.”

According to Verghese, after completing the introductory subjects, students will select three or four subjects from a set of foundation subjects that will consist of streamlined versions of the current Circuits and Electronics (6.002), Signals and Systems (6.003), Computation Structures (6.004), and three other classes that are still being defined, but will be focused on software, algorithms, and aspects from the applied physics side of the department.

These foundation subjects, designed to be taken during sophomore year, are aimed to “encourage [students] to build to senior level subjects,” Verghese said.

Amy J. Wooten ’09 said she signed up for 6.081 because she wanted to see the different aspects of EECS. For the most part, students enjoyed the subject, although there were “some kinks” and students “didn’t understand [the] purpose at times,” according to Christine M. Lee ’09, another student who took 6.081.

Olayemi A. Oyebode ’09 said that he enjoyed the material covered in 6.082, which covers communication networks, and that the assignments were well-structured. Oyebode, who has taken both introductory classes and was a laboratory assistant for 6.081 last fall, mentioned that from both his experience as a student and an LA, students were often confused in 6.081, which may have resulted from how the class was designed.

All the revised and new subjects will be in “pilot mode” for at least three to four years, said Verghese.

Michael M. Haimes ’09 described the new introductory classes as “more hands-on than needing a bunch of textbooks,” where “a bunch of textbooks” refers to 6.001. All students interviewed mentioned that the degree of enjoyment in the class depended on whether an individual preferred hands-on approaches or theoretical approaches.

The hands-on aspects of 6.081 and 6.082 involve building mobile robots and applying concepts like radio, Fourier transforms, networks, and large systems, respectively, in weekly labs.

The EECS department will make updated plans public in the spring, according to Verghese.