This report describes how MIT may integrate the three areas of the Educational Triad - academics, community, and research - to develop an educational product that can serve as a model for elite universities around the world. The Educational Triad involves treating research, academics, and community as equal contributors to the education students receive here, integrating them as much as possible to create a coherent, unified educational product not available elsewhere.
The report's recommendations fall into seven areas, listed as follows:
The casual reader may be tempted to look at the recommendations first, ignoring the philosophy behind it as fluff, but we believe this is the wrong way to approach the subject. Ultimately others will have the choice of whether to accept our recommendations, and their leadership and creativity will determine what the street-level MIT will look like 25 years hence. Our role is to encourage MIT's leaders to think on the same scale as we have: to accept the Educational Triad philosophy, and to integrate its three areas, and to create a unified educational product. This implies something more than a new program or department. A cultural shift is needed at MIT - a shift some may find uncomfortable, but one that will ultimately make MIT the crucible for a new and better type of education.
1.2 Visualizing the Educational Triad
The concept of the Educational Triad is easy to visualize in three dimensions as a pyramid. As shown below, a student's education consists of a combination of academic, research and community related learning. These types of learning combine to provide an education which prepares students for life. Therefore, students' education can be envisioned as being at the apex of a pyramid with the Educational Triad as its base. A description of how each of these areas interacts is provided in the philosophy of the Educational Triad. By thinking of the Educational Triad in terms of a pyramid with the apex being the students' education, the importance of blending these elements becomes apparent. Only an education that mixes the three elements of research, community, and academics will be able to approach the apex of the pyramid. A ratcheting effect occurs whereby better education in one component, such as community, leads directly to better education in the other two areas because many skills useful in one can also be employed elsewhere.
Finally, an important element of educational philosophy is deciding how to make institutional decisions. The Educational Triad does not directly provide a principle by which options can be compared. The Institute needs a value hierarchy. The value statement which is most in line with the concepts of the Educational Triad is the simple design principle of putting education first. This statement clearly delineates MIT's mission and should be reflected in the incentive structure of the Institute. Most importantly, a cultural shift must be achieved so that the community is operating with the mindset of putting education first.
1.3 Tales From the Triad, a one-act play
Since the Student Advisory Committee originated the idea of the Educational Triad, many people at MIT have bandied the expression about. The idea of a triangle with three equal elements, all contributing to students' education, is a powerful one. Many have expressed different, more limited conceptions of the Triad - conceptions that differ from our own. The following fictional stories are an effort to explain the power of the Triad as a strategic vision for what MIT can become. Although some specific proposals are discussed, the stories are intended to illustrate how MIT might change, not to advocate specific changes in particular.
Scene I: Aaron, Class of 2020
Aaron is a sophomore in the Department of Alchemy. In high school, Aaron participated in several extracurricular activities, "mostly for fun, but also as an exercise in resume-building." When he came to MIT, he assumed that getting a technical and practical training in alchemy would take up most of his time. "I came here to get a high-paying job as an alchemist, after all," he says, "so I used my AP credits to get out of the frosh classes and went straight to the upper-level subjects. Result: I was completely hosed."
During his first few months at MIT, however, Aaron began to see his education unfolding differently than he expected. About midway through September, Aaron had an interesting talk with his advisor, Prof. Mehta. Mehta expressed satisfaction with Aaron's advanced courseload, but cautioned him against over-concentrating on academics. "After all," Mehta said, "today's alchemy industry is highly competitive. Sure, there'll probably always be high-paying gold-making jobs out there, but they're not very rewarding. What alchemy and alchemy-related firms are really looking for is someone who knows how to solve alchemy problems, but can also lead, take important decisions outside of pure alchemy topics, and work well in teams."
It took a while, but Aaron began to see that he wasn't just at MIT to take classes. During his second term, Aaron's advisor helped him get a UROP in one of the department's research groups where he worked with two undergrads, two grad students, and three professors. Right away problems cropped up. The team needed Aaron's help putting together presentations and reports for the group's sponsor, Elemental Systems, Inc. As a result, Aaron found himself in a couple of communications classes, learning about public speaking and scientific writing.
At the beginning of his second year, Aaron was having lunch with a couple of the professors in his research group. They were chatting about an incident that had occurred in Aaron's dormitory - some windows were broken at a party and some Institute property vandalized. One of the professors, a faculty resident at North House, asked Aaron if he knew what could be done about the problem, and Aaron had an immediate answer. Then the professor asked why Aaron hadn't gotten involved already. "After all, we're all involved in the MIT community, and that's part of what people expect of you after you get out of here." Again, Aaron realized his view of what MIT was about had changed. He had just as many ideas about how to run his dorm as the rest of his peers. That same term, he ran for and won a position as social chair on his dorm's house committee.
Today, Aaron admits his MIT experience has taken a radically different form than he expected. "And not only that, what I want from MIT has changed as well. The people I look up to here, the professors, aren't just mad Rasputins making gold in their towers. They work together to solve problems, and I can be a part of that. They participate in the community - my community - and they expect the same of me. Being an alchemist doesn't mean seceding from the real life. Academics are still important, but they're integrated into everything else we do here: research, teamwork, and solving problems."
"The thing is," Aaron adds, "what I've learned helping run the dorm has helped me work better with the people in my team-based alchemy classes, not to mention in my UROP. I can't imagine how I could succeed here if I hadn't gotten involved when I did."
Scene II: James Mehta, Professor of Advanced Aural Processes
Professor James Mehta came from the Old School. After getting a PhD in alchemy from MIT in 1984, Mehta went to work for Goldeneye Labs, doing cutting-edge research in industrial gold-making. His ultimate dream was to return to MIT as a tenure-track professor, a dream that seemed fulfilled when he was hired as a Professor of Advanced Aural Processes at MIT's prestigious Golden Labs in 1995. Mehta's job was essentially to continue his previous research, sponsored by the same industries he'd worked with in the past.
Three years into Mehta's work at MIT, a major change came over Golden Labs. The director of the lab, Carol Hubert, called the faculty, staff, and researchers together for a strategy meeting. "I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I've just met with the provost, and he says our department has to make some changes to conform more closely with MIT's strategic vision. We do good research, he says, but we're not participating at all in the other two areas of what he calls the 'Educational Triad,' namely academics and community. The good news is that the provost and I have come up with a plan that will not only meet MIT's strategic needs, but help us in our work as well."
During the next few years, Mehta's lab transformed itself into a model or "pilot department" for others to copy. First, the lab integrated its own structure and facilities with the Department of Alchemy, which offered many classes, and performed research similar to that done at the lab. The lab also met its target for hiring and training new teaching professors, while the Alchemy Department relieved some of its poor teachers, returning them to research positions. Some of Mehta's own colleagues who had previously concentrated on research took classes on how to teach so they could take advantage of the incentives offered for good teaching and teaching training. A couple of staff members were given grants as "departmental community chairs": for a couple of years, they would be funded for their teaching and participation in the student community, after which time they would return to their research projects. Finally, both the lab and department made sure to hire a number of professors who saw their contributions primarily in the teaching and community areas of the Educational Triad.
Although at first Mehta saw the changes as competition for his few hours of spare time, now he feels more philosophical about the transformation: "Why did we change? Because society changed. You can get smart people together and do research, but doing that and teaching a little on the side is not enough to educate students for the world they face today. When I was in industry, they needed hard-core researchers, but more and more they need leaders, team members, communicators, creative thinkers, problem solvers, and so on. Heck, if all students wanted was to learn about gold-making processes, they could do that on the Internet. Why, some of my own friends in other universities' alchemy departments went off and made a bundle working for online universities. But the thing those online folks can't teach is, how do you become a well-rounded person? How do you interact with others to solve the problem at hand? That's where MIT comes in. That's why people are willing to pay so much to send their kids here, and that's why firms hire our students. If I don't prepare them for that, I'm not doing my job - even if I'm not personally one of the faculty members employed as a teaching and community professor this year."
Scene III: Carol Hubert, Dean of Education
Carol Hubert, former head of MIT's Golden Labs, is now Dean of Education at MIT, the highest post in the newly reorganized Dean's Office. She reports directly to the president and provost. Underneath her are the research, academic, and community deans who keep her informed of how well the academic, administrative, and operational departments - and student activities as well - are integrating the three areas of MIT's Educational Triad. Hubert was hired for the position after her stellar performance reorganizing Golden Labs around fulfilling MIT's strategic vision. What are her biggest challenges?
"The biggest challenge is integrating the three areas as much as possible - that's always been the challenge, even if we didn't realize it. But the competition is scarier now. We're competing with the online folks for good teachers and students, and with the big corporate research campuses for good researchers. We fill the only real remaining niche: We put community, teaching, and research together into the same product. Students want that because they know they need the broad skills we provide to get ahead in today's work environment. Students need more than just information, because information is cheap now. They need problem-solving skills, but many of those are provided over the Internet. Students need to come out of here knowing how to communicate, work together, and think creatively - otherwise our product is no better than our competitors'.
"For faculty and grad students the equation is more complicated. The rest of the world hasn't caught up with us yet in many respects. Other schools haven't used their faculty to teach what we teach. So introducing faculty and grads to our approach can be difficult. We've brought in so many good teachers, and we've built new integrated housing for grad students and junior faculty so we've created a real community feeling here. People realize that this is more than a job or a leg-up on an academic career. It's a model community: we have a whole life-cycle of education, starting with the undergrads, and on up to the full professors. Everyone is contributing something to the educational product. They're teaching, leading research groups, advising, or just being good, helpful colleagues. Even the undergrads have something to teach: teamwork, leadership, cooperation - these things would be impossible if we didn't bring people together here on this campus."
Recently, when Dean Hubert was working on MIT's latest capital campaign, she took a call from an alumnus who graduated back in 1996. Although the alumnus said he was excited about how MIT had changed since he had left, he said he didn't quite understand why this hadn't happened when he was at MIT. Dean Hubert explained, "Before academics and research took place under departments, and anything involving the community was completely separate. The faculty and staff primarily interacted with students in rigidly-defined spaces: the classroom, the professor's office, or maybe the lab. Now everything is much more fluid: MIT coordinates departments, faculty, and staff so that strong interaction occurs in almost every physical space. Every part of the community plays a major role in each of the three educational areas. Before that wasn't possible because of the sharp divisions between areas, and between parts of the community."
In the following sections, the Student Advisory Committee presents some of its own concrete suggestions for how MIT might change to become more like the model MIT presented in this introduction. Even if specific proposals are not adopted, however, the philosophy of an integrated Educational Triad remains as an ideal. Realizing that ideal will involve more than just following proposals: it will involve a long process of discussion, internalization, and action. The sooner we can begin, the sooner we will reach our goals.