MIT Reports to the President 1995-96


For the past twenty-seven years, the Experimental Study Group has provided a unique educational alternative to the regular curriculum for first year students at MIT. Learning is based on the concept of self-motivated study through small interactive groups and seminars. Students have found this approach beneficial for a number of reasons: the opportunity to work closely with instructors and ask questions, the chance to be part of a close-knit academic community, and a flexible structure which allows students to study material at their own time and pace.


The total enrollment of students for the year included 51 freshmen, one sophomore transfer, and 17 upperclassmen who had been in ESG as freshmen. In addition, ten non-ESG undergraduates enrolled in seminars sponsored by ESG.

Forty-three percent of ESG's freshman class were female, 6 percent were underrepresented minorities, and 16 percent were international students. The percentages are based on a small number and therefore fluctutate from year to year. Over the past five years, the average percentage of women in ESG is 40, the average percentage of underrepresented minorities is 11, and the average percentage of international students is 16. The comparable figures for the MIT Class of 1999 are 42 percent women, 14 percent unrrepresented minorities, and 7 percent international students.

The 44 sophomores currently registered at MIT who had been in ESG as freshmen earned a cumulative median grade point of 4.3 this spring, the same cumulative median grade point as the entire sophomore class at MIT.


Professor Vernon Ingram (Director of ESG) and Dr. Holly Sweet (Associate Director) administered and monitored program offerings and activities. Dr. Sweet completed her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at Boston College in December 1995, where she specialized in gender studies. In addition to her work in ESG, Dr. Sweet has been co-facilitating a peer training program in gender relations at MIT under the aegis of Residence and Campus Activities, and has been co-teaching an undergraduate seminar in gender roles and relationships under the auspices of the Dean for Undergraduate Education.

The ESG Advisory Committee met with Professor Ingram and Dr. Sweet during the year to supervise the academic portion of ESG. The Committee is headed by Professor Alan Davison (Department of Chemistry), and includes Dean Robert Birgeneau (School of Science), Professor Alar Toomre (Department of Mathematics), Department Head Jerome Friedman (Department of Physics), and Dean Philip Khoury (School of Humanities and Social Science). Professor Friedman replaces Professor Ernest Moniz as the physics department representative on the Committee. We thank Professor Moniz for his involvement with ESG's policy and progress during the past two years.


The physics staff included Professors Emeriti Robert Hulsizer and Robert Halfman, Dr. Peter Dourmashkin, Lecturer Craig Watkins, and Lecturer David Custer '82. The mathematics staff was headed by graduate student Thomas Colthurst and included Mr. Watkins. Professor Ingram from the Department of Biology was responsible for the teaching of introductory biology in ESG. The chemistry offerings at ESG were supervised by Dr. Patti Christie, a post-doctoral instructor in the Department of Chemistry, and Professor Davison.

ESG also offered several HASS-D and HASS classes to its students. Dr. Lee Perlman rejoined our staff after being employed for the past three years as an Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College, and taught philosophy and political philosophy. Mr. Custer taught both expository and creative writing.

Our staff were assisted by 28 undergraduate tutors (who maintained an impressive 4.6 median grade point average) and by 12 graduate tutors. Undergraduates tutoring biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics for the first time at ESG were required to participate in a teaching seminar for credit run by staff members. Dr. Sweet interviewed all freshmen and tutors to assess the quality of teaching at ESG. Her recommendations, based on these interviews, were reviewd at the annual ESG staff retreat. Several new methods of improving the quality of teaching have been implemented in ESG as a result, including a new tutor training manual for undergraduate and graduate tutors.


ESG continued its tradition of developing new courses and seminars every year by offering three new subjects: SP298 The Art of Color, SP299 Introduction to C Programming, and SP2H1 The Philosophy of Love. All courses received very enthusiastic evaluations from students and will be repeated in the coming year.

Professor Ingram, aided by Dr. Jodeane Pringle, continued to develop the wet lab portion of introductory biology. Several undergraduates are also collaborating with him in the development of the MIT Biology Hypertext, a teaching tool on the World Wide Web. This is now widely used internationally and in the United States. It is being translated into several languages and has already earned some national plaudits.

In January, 1995, Dean Birgeneau contributed a generous grant to ESG to promote educational innovation. The following projects have been funded by this grant:

Caught in the Web: The Art and Science of Information Retrieval: an undergraduate seminar developed by Anthony Ku '97 and co-sponsored by the Edgerton Center and the MIT Libraries.

Physics demonstration videos: to be organized by Professor Emeritus Hulsizer under the co(c)sponsorship of the Physics Department.

Mathematics hypertexts for 18.01, 18.02, and 18.03: to be developed by Mr. Colthurst and Joy Nicholson '98.

A seminar on alternative education: to be developed by Christopher Douglas '99 under the supervision of Dr. Sweet.

Mini-seminars to be run during IAP 1997, including How to Detect and Debunk Misleading Statistics, Improving Your Math and Physics Problem Solving Skills, and Game Theory in Everyday Life: to be supervised by Dr. Dourmashkin and Mr. Watkins.

Introduction to Java: a undergraduate seminar to be taught by Mr. Colthurst.

ESG continues to provide a home for students and staff at MIT who are interested in a more individualized and experimental approach to education. We applaud the efforts of all of our community members who have contributed in their own ways in maintaining ESG as a valuable Institute resource for curricular and pedagogical innovation.

Vernon M. Ingram
Holly B. Sweet

MIT Reports to the President 1995-96