This semester, 144 freshmen, or 12.9 percent of the Class of 2017, were issued fifth week flags. The proportion of recipients is down from almost a fifth of the Class of 2016 last year. Fifth week flags exist as part of an early warning system to encourage students to reevaluate their study habits.
According to Julie B. Norman, the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (UAAP), a fifth week flag is issued to any student who is at risk of not passing a class, which means an overall grade of a D or F five weeks into the semester.
The flag consists of an email from the professor describing possible areas of improvement, followed by an email from the Associate Dean for Advising and Academic Programming, Donna L. Friedman, listing specific resources for the student. These include Student Support Services (S3) and Seminar XL, a structured study group provided by the Office of Minority Education (OME). In addition, she asks each student to provide a self-assessment. Oftentimes, she says, it is an issue of time management.
“Most students are struggling with time management and learning how to be a successful learner here,” said Friedman. “It’s often hard — many students are just spread thinly with extracurriculars and varsity sports and other things. Academics, for the first time, is something they have to put more energy into. Learning to do that is part of the transition to MIT.”
A total of 167 flags were issued, with 20 freshmen receiving more than one flag, 17 receiving two flags, and 3 receiving three flags. No HASS classes issued fifth week flags. If a student receives more than one flag, Dennis Freeman, the Dean for Undergraduate Education, sends an additional email to the student particularly encouraging them to go to the OME and participate in Seminar XL.
Part of this year’s decrease in fifth week flags can be attributed to 3.091, which issued only two flags this year, compared to 29 flags last year. This semester, 3.091 is experimenting with incorporating more online instruction into the class, and replacing midterm and final exams with weekly online assessments.
“I think those students that needed to get the message got it by week two,” explained 3.091 Professor Michael J. Cima on the large decrease of flags this year. “This assessment method gives people several opportunities for feedback each week. Our old assessment approach was primarily based on the first midterm. That is just too long to wait. I think the current students changed what they needed to change much earlier.”
7.012 gave out the most fifth week flags, handing out flags to 14.6 percent of the freshmen in that class (or 36 out of the 247 freshmen). 7.015 and 7.016, the two new introductory biology classes, issued flags to 7.5 percent and 9 percent of their freshmen, respectively.
Six GIR classes — 8.012, 18.03, 5.112, 18.014, 18.01A, and 8.02 — gave out no flags.
Friedman said that students who are flagged in the fall semester generally are not flagged again in their spring semester, suggesting the freshmen in the spring are usually “a new crop.”
“I think a lot of freshmen feel like failures because they got a flag, but really, it’s what you do with that information,” emphasized Friedman. “What I always say to students is that it’s the first bump in the road, and how you deal with it is predictive of what you’ll do here on in.”