The MIT faculty will vote to approve changes to the General Institute Requirements recommended by the Education Commons Subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program on Wednesday, Dec. 17.
The Student Committee on Education Policy surveyed students for their opinions on the changes. 753 upperclassmen (24 percent) and 345 freshmen (33 percent) responded to the survey. The results were presented to the faculty in November and are available online along with recommendations from the committee at http://ua.mit.edu/committees/scep/.
Students like “flavors,” neutral on Foundations courses
The ECS final report recommended that the same core subjects of the science, mathematics and engineering (SME) GIRs remain but be offered in different “flavors,” each with a specific area of focus. The flavors would be akin to the current varieties of the biology GIR, where students can take 7.012, 7.013, or 7.014, which focus more on human biology and genetics, neurobiology and development, and ecology, respectively.
In the SCEP student survey — which was run before the final report of the ECS was released but after the interim report was released — 78 percent of freshmen and 71 percent of upperclassmen agreed or strongly agreed with the introduction of flavors. Students generally liked the flexibility, but some students voiced concern that they would be influenced too much by the flavors they chose when they had to decide on a major. Others worried that since not all flavors would be equivalent in content, professional schools would judge the flavors differently, and the “unifying experience” of freshmen taking the GIRs would be lost.
Other changes to the SME GIRs propose two new categories of GIR classes — SME Foundations and Elements of Design. SME Foundations, a 12-unit requirement, would serve as a base to teach topics relevant to many areas of science, mathematics, and engineering, such as differential equations or statistics.
Students would have the open of taking one 12-unit class or two 6-unit classes, covering the same subjects in less depth, to complete the Foundation requirement. Elements of Design courses would intend to “capture modes of reasoning that facilitate design,” such as graphical reasoning, hierarchal reasoning, and approximation.
The ECS recommended that both the SME Foundations and Elements of Design classes undergo experimental and assessment stages before being considered as required elements of the curriculum, an estimated time of approximately two to three years.
Pertaining to the introduction of SME Foundations, students responding to the survey were generally neutral, with 30 percent supporting it and 20 percent against it. The reception of the possibility of having the option to take two 6-unit courses was similarly neutral, with 39 percent of upperclassmen and 54 percent of freshman saying they would value the flexibility it offered.
Fifty percent of upperclassmen and 58 percent of freshmen supported the introduction of Elements of Design, but concerns were raised that the classes would lose relevance if not major-specific, and that the lab requirement would be better suited for science and humanities majors. There was general agreement — 70 percent upperclassmen, 76 percent freshmen — that exposure to design methods would be beneficial, but there were opinions that it could be fulfilled through other venues like internships and existing classes, and thus should not be a requirement.
Students support HASS-D restructuring
The ECS recommendations for the modifications to the HASS requirement are to develop First Year Focus (FYF) subjects, which are targeted at freshmen and have central ‘human’ themes such as poverty or justice, and to eliminate the HASS-D system, to be replaced with a three-category system.
The goal of the FYF subjects is to teach students to think critically and across disciplines in the humanities and to foster a sense of community among students, particularly freshmen. As such, students would be “highly encouraged” to take the subjects freshman year, but could choose to wait until later. New FYF classes will be developed in the next two years, and some current HASS classes will be adapted into FYF subjects.
The elimination of the HASS-D categorization would be effective for the Class of 2014. Instead of the HASS-D requirement, in which students must take three classes from five HASS-D designations, students would be required to take a class from each of the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. The ECS recommended grouping HASS classes by subject, not by department, to allow students to fully explore the distribution of the categories within a subject that incorporates all three. The concentration component of the HASS requirement and the Communications Requirement would not be modified.
Reception of the FYF subjects was not as well received as other aspects of the GIR reforms, with 56 percent of freshmen and 61 percent disagreeing with the idea that an FYF class would foster a sense of community. Many students valued the upperclassmen-freshmen interaction in HASS classes (57 percent of upperclassmen and 53 percent of freshmen), and others thought that freshman year is already restrictive enough.
Among students, there was overwhelming support for a restructuring of the HASS-D system. 61 percent of upperclassmen and 62 percent of freshmen found the system confusing, and only 29 percent of upperclassmen and 31 percent of freshmen found it understandable. The proposed system was deemed clear by 79 percent of upperclassmen and 74 percent of freshmen, and students generally thought that the new system was more flexible than the current one.
The ECS was founded last October to refine and revise the recommendations made by the 2006 Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons. The Task Force recommendations were more radical than the current proposals; suggestions included having students select five classes from six SME categories and only having single and multivariable calculus, along with mechanics, as requirements. A recent implementation of a Task Force recommendation is the move from double degrees to double majors.