Education is preparation for life. MIT's mission in this regard remains the same as in 1949, when the Task Force's predecessor, the Committee on Educational Survey (the "Lewis" Committee), reached the conclusion that the objective of education is to develop in students a set of qualities useful for a well-rounded life. These qualities, which we have termed 'life skills,' include 1) wisdom, tolerance, and cooperation, 2) the faculties of critical reason and analysis, and 3) citizenship.
The Student Advisory Committee to the Task Force on Student Life and Learning ("the Committee") sought to study how MIT might better achieve its educational mission, which presented an excellent opportunity to reformulate and redefine that mission. From its founding, MIT has been a dynamic institution -- growing and changing as a result of lessons learned from past experience, and responding to changing needs and demands of society. Similar to the Lewis Committee's work in 1949, the Student Advisory Committee sought to survey MIT's educational achievement, identify unaddressed needs and challenges, and develop a strategy for building a model MIT for the next twenty-five years.
In founding MIT, William Barton Rogers conceived an educational philosophy dedicated to preparing students to meet the needs of their society. As a technical school, MIT focused its efforts on preparing engineers and architects for their professions. This was the concept of a "limited education," one in which MIT prepared students for life by giving them technical skills useful for their professions. The limited education was ideal for MIT's first century of growth: by concentrating the organization's resources on the narrow goal of providing technical skills through lecture and hands-on work, MIT rose to the top of the engineering field.
The twentieth century placed new demands on the nation's engineers and the institutions that trained them. Engineers needed a strong grasp of scientific and theoretical knowledge in order to reach the top of their fields, and training in these areas became essential. Engineers and scientists also took on an increasingly important role in managing society as a whole; MIT graduates found they needed a larger cultural awareness in order to advance in their professions and function effectively in society. To meet these needs, the Committee on the Educational Survey recommended the creation of a School of Science and the integration of the science and engineering curricula. The Committee also recommended the creation of a core humanities curriculum. Growth in the areas of science and the humanities and social sciences was conceived as part of the broader education demanded of MIT's students.
Since 1950, MIT has largely fulfilled its goal of broadening the educational experience it delivers to students. MIT's achievement in science and scientific education is recognized throughout the world. Not only has scientific instruction been integrated with the engineering curriculum, but the School of Science has distinguished itself in the education of new students and the advancement of human scientific knowledge. At the same time, MIT has implemented a strong curriculum in the humanities and social sciences; all MIT graduates receive at least eight semesters of training in these areas. In addition, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Sloan School of Management have distinguished themselves as world leaders in education.
Although MIT has indeed broadened the educational experience it provides to undergraduate and graduate students, it seems as if MIT has not been able to keep pace with the changing and expanding needs of society. MIT's scientists and engineers find they need broader skills in communication, teamwork, and analytical ability. Many of MIT's graduates have found themselves underprepared in the areas of communication and ability to work well with others. In these and other ways, MIT's educational product has not kept pace with the demands of society.
To evaluate how MIT is meeting its educational mission, The Committee sought to define clearly the life skills demanded of those who will be leaders in society. The life skills defined by the Committee on the Educational Survey in 1949 are the same life skills demanded today. Critical reasoning and analytical skills have become increasingly important as the world becomes more complex. Citizenship - an understanding of how participation in community affairs strengthens both the community and the individual - has become more important in our increasingly interdependent world. Finally, MIT's graduates need wisdom, tolerance, and cooperation now more than ever. MIT prepares students for life by teaching analytical skills, civic skills, and interpersonal skills. How can MIT better impart these broad skills to its students?
(to top of page)
MIT prepares students for life through an educational triad: academics, research, and community. Each of these distinct areas contribute to the development of the three life skills defined above. Although each component of the triad is a distinct area of a student's education, contribution of every component reinforces and adds to the contribution of the others. By utilizing all three channels, MIT can provide the best education.
Academics is the most familiar channel of education. From its founding, the MIT classroom experience has stressed the importance of understanding fundamental concepts and applying them to solving societal problems. MIT graduates are renowned for their problem-solving skills and are in high demand because of these skills. In addition, the classroom experience offers students the opportunity to develop social and civic skills by building relationships with teaching staff and other students. These relationships build interpersonal support structures and a sense of community. Finally, the classroom offers the opportunity to develop communication and teamwork skills.
The locus of education has changed and expanded during the decades since MIT was founded. In the past, post-secondary education was often limited to the classroom and outside reading. MIT has emphasized the importance of a hands-on curriculum, using practical experience and current methodologies as fundamental teaching tools. The Institute has also experimented with new teaching tools, including the lecture format and computer teaching methods. The classroom, homework, and hands-on work in the laboratory can be called the academic side of education. Although the design of the curriculum and the quality of teaching could certainly be improved, MIT has unquestionably established a reputation in the academic sphere.
A second sphere of education in which MIT excels is research. The importance of research to the educational mission has grown over the years, particularly since the introduction of the integrated curriculum in science. One function of research is to attract and maintain top-level faculty who understand and grapple daily with current problems in their field. An understanding of current research topics helps the Faculty to design curricula and classroom experiences appropriate to the development of useful skills and current methodologies. Beyond helping faculty however, participation in academic research is perhaps the central educational tool of the graduate program. Most graduate students are expected to assist with or undertake useful and demanding research projects as part of their degree requirements and as a means to acquire funding for their education. Research has also been used to enhance the undergraduate program through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Because of the importance of research to faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students, it is appropriate to consider it as an integral part of the educational triad.
The third part of the educational triad is community. Undergraduates generally spend most of their time at MIT either on campus or in independent living groups. Increasingly, the living group has become the center of undergraduate life. In their living arrangements, students come to have some understanding of adult life through the management of their own affairs, either as individuals or as groups. For their part, graduate students may experience community primarily around social and informal interaction with members of their department or research group. Student activities, such as student government, political groups, artistic and musical associations, and athletics consume a large amount of student energy. Undergraduate and graduate students involved in these activities learn valuable skills which will be described below.
Community activities are often referred to as "student activities," "extra-curriculars," or even "co-curricular activities." We believe that participation in the community is not, and ought not be, restricted to students. The enormous educational value of faculty and staff participation in community activities is currently underdeveloped. Yet, some faculty do participate in the MIT community outside their offices, research, and teaching, by assisting in the governance of their departments and schools or in the governance of the Institute itself. Others interact with the community in a wider way by participating in campus activities with students, by founding community-building programs such as Leadershape, by serving as advisors to student groups, and by serving as faculty residents in undergraduate or graduate dormitories.
Community involvement plays an important role at MIT, both in making it an attractive and pleasant place for students and faculty, and as an educational tool. For this reason, we believe that community represents a third area of education, on an equal level with academics and research. Indeed, the three areas of research, academics, and community are by no means separate, even though they may often be associated with the specific physical spaces where they take place (such as the classroom, laboratory, or living group). For instance, academics and research are often said to complement each other. Concepts introduced in the classroom are applied to the student's research, and concepts learned in research may help the student understand related ideas in the classroom. Similarly, skills acquired by the student in the community - for example, in managing one's own life, in interacting and cooperating with others to solve problems, and in decision-making - can be fruitfully applied to academic work, or in research projects.
The complementary nature of learning in these three issue areas - research, academics, and community - will lead us to employ the concept of an educational triad throughout this report. At the core of the educational triad concept is the understanding that MIT can best prepare its students for life by improving and integrating the three areas of education - by bringing research, community, and academics together to form a unified educational program.
to top of page