Questions raised over 2030 in FNL

Faculty want input for the 2030 plans

Unlike previous iterations, the faculty newsletter (FNL) from November/December had several clear themes. It outlined a number of issues, including a faculty commentary of the MIT 2030 plan that covers concerns about faculty involvement and where academics fits into the plan, the report of the Stellar next-generation pilot on the blackboard platform, and updates on the committees for graduate admissions and undergraduate orientation. The MIT 2030 initiative was announced by MIT President Susan J. Hockfield last year as a vision of MIT for the future; in terms of how current real estate will be used and what new developments may occur. The opening editorial, written by the FNL editorial board, criticizes the MIT Investment Management Company’s (MITIMCo) role in the development of the plan. It stated that although they are positioned to evaluate the financial implications of the plans for future use of MIT real estate, they are “not in a position to balance the financial implications of long-term planning with the future academic needs of MIT.”

The editorial board states that it is impossible to predict and plan for the academic needs of the institute 20 years in advance. They also state that there is currently no faculty committee consulting with the administration on the MIT 2030 initiative regarding the use of off-campus land. The editorial board calls for such a committee to be formed, stating that “we need an Institute committee with full faculty representation to plan the growth and further reorganization of our campus, considering all the diverse requirements of maintaining a vibrant university community.”

Faculty Chair, Samuel M. Allen, also wrote a piece in response to MIT 2030, stating that a view of how education might change before 2030 should be included in the vision of the next 20 years. He expresses that in order to avoid diluting the unique residence-based education experience, the effect of long distance learning such as MITx must be considered. While this technology enhanced learning is growing in popularity, it conflicts with the on campus educational experience that so many have come to value. Much of his argument is drawn from a 1998 study by the MIT Task Force on Student Life and Learning about the on-campus educational experience.

“Let’s return to technology-enabled education and its role in MIT’s future,” Allen said, “How can developments in enhanced learning practices be leveraged to enhance the value added by a residence-based MIT education? The answer has to lie in creating and sustaining a unique on-campus learning community that successfully integrates elements of what the Task Force Report calls the ‘educational triad’ — research, academics, and community.”

The FNL also addresses the future of MIT’s course management program, Stellar. In Spring 2011, MIT IS&T evaluated Blackboard 9.1 for potential use in the future, pilot testing the platform with 14 courses across six different disciplines, involving 33 course administrators and over 600 MIT students. The technical evaluation of the Blackboard platform by IS&T yielded unfavorable results; the platform was plagued with compatibility and update issues that were not readily correctable by IS&T, despite using a heavily customized version to cater to MIT’s needs. Ninety percent of course administrators and 68 percent of students surveyed that took part in the evaluation preferred Stellar over Blackboard, citing that many features, including the gradebook tool, were harder to use in Blackboard. In light of this, the MIT Faculty committee on Learning Systems Management recommended that the MIT Council on Educational Technology, the administrative committee that sanctioned this test, cease all testing with the Blackboard platform and instead move resources to developing a Modular Service Framework that will gradually replace the current Sakai-2 based Stellar platform.

The FNL provided two important updates for issues regarding new students. For undergraduate freshman orientation, Meritt Roe Smith, the faculty chair for the Review Committee on Orientation, stated that the work for the report about orientation was nearly complete. This report will be delivered to Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings PhD ’80 and Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo at an undetermined date. The report reviewed the challenges and purposes of freshman orientation activities such as orientation programming, freshman pre-orientation programs (FPOPs), the residential exploration period (REX), and FSILG rush. These recommendations will be the result of analysis done on data collected from several sources, including a survey given to the Class of 2015 during Fall 2011, that has been in progress since the committee was commissioned in March 2011.

The second issue regarding new students is the streamlining of the graduate admissions process. The current graduate admissions process is not unified across departments; the interfaces of many systems are not user-friendly, have no capability of real-time data reporting, and create administrative burdens due to the upkeep of manually entering and re-entering data. The Task Force on Improving Graduate Admissions Processes was formed in January 2011 by Dean of Graduate Education Christine Ortiz, to evaluate the graduate admissions process across all departments and give a recommendation to improve the process for both the administrators and applicants. This recommendation, which has already been given, calls for a switch from “a fragmented structure with multiple providers to an all-electronic system with one recommended and supported application provider.” The electronic system they will use was developed by EECS Professors Frans Kaashoek and Robert Morris and is currently in use for the EECS graduate program. The new system will be phased in over the course of three admissions cycles, allowing departments to opt-in as the commercial vendors are phased out.