MIT Reports to the President 1996-97


For the past twenty-eight 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, tutorials, independent projects, and seminars. Students have found this approach beneficial for a number of reasons: the opportunity to work closely with instructors and be able to ask questions, the chance to be part of a close-knit academic program with a strong community focus, and a flexible structure which allows students to study material at their own pace and depth.


The total number of students for the year included 53 freshmen and 23 upperclassmen who had been in ESG as freshmen. In addition, 31 undergraduates who had not previously been in ESG enrolled in seminars and HASS subjects taught in ESG.

Fifty-one percent of ESG's freshman class were female, eight percent were underrepresented minorities, and twenty-one percent were international students. The 49 sophomores currently registered at MIT who had been in ESG as freshmen earned a cumulative median grade point of 4.4, a figure which is higher than the corresponding figure for 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. Renee Hoffman joined the staff in April as an administrative assistant. Dr. Sweet also participated actively in the MIT Academic Administrators' Re-engineering Team and co-facilitated an experimental ten session professional development group for academic administrators.

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), Dean Philip Khoury (School of Humanities and Social Sciences), Professor Ernest Moniz (Department of Physics), and Professor Alar Toomre (Department of Mathematics).


The physics staff included Professor Emeritus Robert Hulsizer and Robert Halfman, Dr. Peter Dourmashkin (Lecturer), Craig Watkins (Lecturer), and David Custer '82 (Lecturer). The mathematics staff was headed by graduate student Thomas Colthurst and included graduate student Adam Lucas and Mr. Watkins. The chemistry offerings at ESG were supervised by Christopher Morse, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry. The biology staff was headed by Professor Ingram and included Cindy Limb, who tutored biology and maintained the biology wet lab.

ESG also offered several HASS and HASS-D courses to its students. Dr. Lee Perlman taught 21L001 Foundations of Western Culture in the fall term and SP2H1 Philosophy of Love in the spring term. Mr. Custer taught 21W730 Expository Writing in the fall term and 21W735 Writing and Reading the Essay in the spring term.

Our staff was assisted by 36 undergraduate tutors (who maintained an impressive GPA of 4.6), and 13 graduate tutors. New undergraduate tutors were required to participate in a fall teaching seminar run by staff. Dr. Sweet interviewed all freshmen during the middle of each term about their academic progress and overall satisfaction with both ESG and MIT. Her recommendations, based on these interviews, were reviewed at the annual staff retreat in June. Several new ESG policies, based in part on these recommendations, were instituted, including distributing an ESG tutor training manual to all new tutors, and holding biweekly supervisory meetings for new graduate tutors.


ESG continued to sponsor new academic initiatives, which were funded through a special grant given to ESG during the previous academic year by Dean Birgeneau. These initiatives included seminars on photography, information retrieval, eastern religions, psychology, drawing, computer programming, philosophy, and literature. Four of these seminars were developed and taught by undergraduate students under staff supervision. One seminar (information retrieval) was co-sponsored by the Edgerton Center. Students and staff also worked on Hypertexts in molecular biology and mathematics.


Dr. Sweet and Dr. Perlman team-taught SEM051 (Sex Roles and Relationships) for the tenth year in a row. This seminar, based on a combination of theory and experiential work, was written up in the November/December 1996 issue of Technology Review and also won the 1997 Irwin Sizer award for "the most significant improvement to MIT education."

Mr. Morse won the 1997 Goodwin medal for "conspicuously effective teaching on the graduate level" for his work both in ESG and in the regular curriculum.

The ESG Hypertext in Molecular Biology, written by ESG students and Professor Ingram, has been recommended by a number of bodies, e.g. The Chronicle of Higher Education, The AP Teachers, Student-net, Scout Report, and others. It is widely used nationally and internationally by teachers and students.


ESG continues to support educational innovation in both teaching and learning. Funds were solicited from ESG alumni during June to raise money for new seminars, support on-going seminars, and continue work on the biology and math hypertexts. An annual teaching award for the best undergraduate tutor at ESG will also be funded by alumni contributions. We look forward to contributing to the educational mission of MIT by using our resources to encourage curricular and pedagogical experimentation by both staff and students at ESG.

V. Ingram, H. Sweet

MIT Reports to the President 1996-97