Education Sees Course Changes, Classes for Freshman Experience

Education at MIT in 2007 saw a number of changes: two undergraduate courses revamped their curricula; opportunities for freshmen expanded with the addition of project-based engineering and foundational Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences classes; and two degree programs neared acceptance by MIT.

Courses VI overhauled

In the spring, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science announced an overhaul of the Course VI curriculum. The changes, designed to emphasize flexibility, hands-on experience, and current research, represent the first significant modifications to the curriculum in three decades.

EECS Department Head W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 said that the new curriculum aims to broadly survey EECS and to give students practical, hands-on work. One such new survey class, Introduction to EECS I (6.01) will replace Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001), which was taught for the last time in the fall.

Course VI sophomores will continue on a more specialized route, selecting classes from a set of foundation subjects that contain the fundamental portions of the material currently taught in courses like Circuits and Electronics (6.002), Signals and Systems (6.003), and Computation Structures (6.004).

One surprise in the Course VI revamp was the mid-fall announcement that the popular Laboratory in Software Engineering class (6.170), famous for the intense amounts of work it demanded from students, would not be taught in the spring or in the future. Department administrators and faculty said that the substantial overlap between 6.170 and Principles of Software Development (6.005) warranted the cancellation of 6.170.

Course V gets lab ‘modules’

As an engineering program changed its focus, so too did a program in the School of Science. The Department of Chemistry, Course V, introduced a new set of 12 four-unit classes, or “modules,” to replace its existing three mandatory laboratory classes. Three modules comprise each of four new subjects: Introduction to Experimental Chemistry (5.35), Biochemistry and Organic Lab (5.36), Organic and Inorganic Lab (5.37), and Physical Chemistry Lab (5.38).

The existing lab classes Introductory Chemical Experimentation (5.311) and Intermediate Chemical Experimentation (5.32) were replaced in the fall by several of the new modules. Advanced Chemical Experimentation and Instrumentation (5.33) will be replaced in fall 2008.

More classes aimed at freshmen

In fall 2006 and spring 2007, six experimental project-based classes, aimed at freshmen, were taught for the first time. Out of 999 freshmen (now sophomores), 147 took such a class, according to a September 2007 Faculty Newsletter article by Professor Dennis M. Freeman PhD ’86, Elizabeth D. Cooper, a senior project manager in the Office of Faculty Support, and William A. Lucas, the Cambridge-MIT Institute’s executive director.

The article reported that students who took the project-based classes were more likely than other freshmen to report interest in new areas, to have done “more than the required work” in subjects because they were interesting, and that “faculty now know me well enough to write a good letter of recommendation for me.” The article noted that the female students were especially well-served by the classes: they were more likely than other female freshmen to report that “I have been able to talk to faculty outside of class about my interests.”

The students taking project-based classes were less likely to agree that they had maintained “a balance between my academic work and other aspects of my life,” suggesting that these courses could contribute to heavy course loads. The six project-based classes taught in 2006–07, along with two new classes, are scheduled to be taught in the 2007–08 school year.

Elsewhere in the HASS world, various departments offered freshman classes focused around themes or foundational ideas, including How to Stage a Revolution (21H.001) and The Art of the Probable (21H.017).

Two new degree programs

In 2007, two new degrees were in the works. The MIT Comparative Media Studies (CMS) degree program, a five year experiment by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, cleared most of the technical hurdles to become a permanent major at MIT; it now awaits approval from the Faculty Policy Committee and from the Institute faculty.

The Sloan School of Management is also undergoing the approval process for a new Masters program in Finance.