2.1 The Attributes of an Educated Individual
The central item in the Task Force's charge was to evaluate MIT's educational processes. In general, the purpose of higher education is to produce educated graduates, but what attributes will distinguish the educated individual in the 21st century? In consultation with students, faculty, and staff, the Task Force has examined this issue, and has found that the attributes of an educated individual fall into three broad categories: reason, knowledge, and wisdom. The following paragraphs capture these qualities and articulate the Task Force's vision for the ultimate goal of MIT's educational processes.
An educated individual possesses well-developed faculties of critical and rational reasoning. She understands the scientific method and other methods of inquiry and hence is able to obtain, evaluate, and utilize information to pose and solve complex problems in life and work. To this end, she has a strong grasp of quantitative reasoning, and has the ability to manage complexity and ambiguity.
An educated individual has a sound foundation of knowledge within a chosen field and has achieved some depth and experience of practice in it. At the same time, he is able to relate this knowledge to larger problems in society, and he has an appreciation for the interaction between science, technology, and society. An educated person is intellectually curious and motivated toward continuous learning.
An educated individual possesses the qualities associated with the best in the human spirit: a well-developed sense of judgment, an aesthetic sensibility, and the flexibility and self-confidence to adapt to major change. She has a knowledge of history and an understanding of the spectrum of human culture and value systems, and she combines this knowledge with her strong sense of judgment to think critically about moral and ethical issues. Her ability to communicate clearly and effectively enables her to work well with others and to employ all of the above attributes in making a positive and substantial contribution to society.
Many of the attributes of an educated individual are timeless, while others must be adapted to the social and technical environment of the current times. The paragraphs above also reflect the value MIT places on quantitative rigor and education based on useful knowledge. How can we help students develop the qualities of the educated individual? The principles that have guided MIT in the past, combined with the three new principles outlined by the Task Force, must light the way.
2.2 The Central Finding
Given the challenge of helping students develop the qualities of the educated individual, it is appropriate that the Task Force was asked to examine the interaction between student life and learning. The Task Force's central finding is that the interaction among these elements of the student's experience is fundamental. The combination of structured learning and unstructured or informal education is critical because it enables us to educate the whole student. It is this very combination that results in MIT's reputation for providing a world-class education, as opposed to a merely skill-based or knowledge-based education.
The central and distinguishing feature of an MIT education is that it incorporates the three elements of its educational triad -- research, academics, and community -- into an education that is greater than the sum of its parts. The concept of the educational triad was first brought to the Task Force by students, which demonstrates the widespread recognition that the higher education of the future must go beyond classroom learning. As the Task Force's Student Advisory Committee writes, "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."9
Although the combination of formal learning and informal learning already takes place at MIT, the relationship between them is sometimes undervalued in the way we think about education. The two are often treated as separate, perhaps because they tend to take place in different physical spaces and times, and they often involve different groups of people. Yet MIT remains a campus-based university, and the value of maintaining it as such lies primarily in the degree to which its students learn from one another. Collaboration among students and interaction with faculty, whether they take place in formal or informal settings, are the distinguishing qualities of the academics, research, and community activities that take place at a campus-based university.
In the future, information will pervade society. As the costs of providing a residence-based environment increase, and as distance-learning technologies become more effective, the importance of integrating the formal with the informal will loom larger, and MIT must be prepared for this change. The challenge is to use existing strengths in research, academics, and community to better accomplish the integration that is essential to the future.
The Task Force's substantive findings and recommendations are presented in the following three chapters on academics and research, community, and strategy and structure. It has been necessary to present the material relating to the three elements of the triad in two separate chapters for the sake of readability. However, in the spirit of integrating the learning that takes place in all parts of the triad, the Task Force emphasizes that the following findings are all intricately interdependent. The ultimate goal is to bring students, faculty, and staff together in pursuit of the common educational enterprise, and doing so entails recognizing the relationship between what happens within the classroom or laboratory and the informal learning that takes place outside.