Curriculum Changes Proposed

MIT worked toward revamping its General Institute Requirements in 2008. Possible curriculum reforms would simplify the structure of the HASS requirement, add flavors to core science classes, and introduce pilot versions of broad-themed humanities classes geared towards freshman.

The changes have been under review by the faculty since the fall and await approval by a faculty vote scheduled to take place tomorrow.

Before GIR changes became the focus of education reform efforts late last year, the faculty approved the phasing in of double majors to replace double degrees. In practical terms, this change eliminated the need for students to complete an extra 90 units beyond the requirements of a second academic program.

The shift from double degrees was approved in September and applies to current undergraduates: juniors and sophomores may choose whether to pursue double degrees or double majors, and freshman may only pursue double majors.

The change was recommended by the Task Force on the Undergraduate Education Commons in an October 2006 report and came out of a feeling among task force members and other faculty that there was no clear reason for requiring an extra 90 units to complete two degrees.

The task force also found that the extra units requirement gave an unfair advantage to students who came in with more Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, transfer, and advanced standing exam credit.

Earlier, in the spring of 2008, the faculty voted to approve several other curriculum-related changes: the sophomore exploratory option, which allows sophomores to choose whether or not to show a grade on their transcript for one class each semester, was made permanent after the culmination of a five year trial.

The faculty also approved the start of a five year trial Pass/D/Fail option for graduate students. And, Comparative Media Studies was made a permanent course after completing a five year trial.

The proposed curriculum changes, the first of which would affect the class of 2014, address both the technical and HASS components of the GIRs.

The GIR change proposal under consideration by the faculty is based on a report by the Education Commons Subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, a group that studied and discussed possibilities for renovating the GIRs over the past year and a half.

Proposed changes would encourage faculty to develop alternative versions of introductory chemistry, biology, and physics subjects, in addition to those that already exist. Students could then choose one class from each of the sciences to satisfy their science requirements.

The Subcommittee also proposed developing a pilot class under the working title “Elements of Design,” which would introduce students to common themes in engineering design problems. The faculty would consider making the class a requirement at the end of the pilot run.

The proposal would eliminate HASS-D subjects and instead designate all HASS classes as belonging to one of three categories: humanities, arts, and social sciences. Students would have to take at least one class in each category as part of their eight required humanities classes.

HASS concentration requirements would remain the same.

Pilot versions of “First-Year Focus” humanities classes, which would examine broad topics in humanities, would also be introduced and be evaluated for possible introduction to general requirements.

The faculty was scheduled to vote on the proposed changes at the faculty meeting in mid-December, but two amendments that were called to the floor delayed the vote until the next faculty meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

The first amendment added to the proposal that the addition or removal of GIR core subjects required a vote by the faculty, not just approval by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, to be introduced.

The second amendment proposed that working groups be formed to define the core material in each of the major science, math, and engineering core subjects to assure that new versions of these subjects that are developed would all include some common central topics.

The second amendment will be voted on at tomorrow’s faculty meeting.

The Undergraduate Association Student Committee on Education Policy conducted a survey to assess student opinion of the proposed GIR changes.

The survey revealed that students most widely approved of the simplification of the HASS requirement and the addition of flavors to GIR science subjects, while students had more mixed reactions to the introduction of “First-Year Focus” classes and an “Element of Design” requirement.

Survey results were presented to the faculty to help inform their votes on the GIR proposal.