Final Report of the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement

Appendix C

Guidelines for Departmental Development
And Assessment Of
Communication-Intensive Curricular Activities

G. Brown
L. Keyes

2 March 1998


In April 1997, the MIT Faculty voted that "students should receive instruction and feedback in writing and speaking during each undergraduate year," and that the responsibility for teaching these abilities should be distributed across the entire MIT undergraduate curriculum. The Faculty instructed the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) to conduct a series of experiments and pilot programs to inform the development of a new undergraduate Communication Requirement. The CUP is to make specific recommendations to the Faculty on the design of this new curriculum not later than Spring of 2000.

The aim of this two-year period of curricular experiments is to explore different ways to integrate instruction and practice in writing and speaking into the first-year curriculum, the General Institute Requirements, and Departmental degree programs. These experiences can be situated either within both regular academic subjects or and outside the traditional classroom. In September 1997, the CUP appointed a Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement to guide the evaluation of these curricular experiments and pilot programs. Specifically, the CUP charged the Subcommittee to develop a series of criteria and procedures to inform the design and assessment of projects undertaken by academic units.

Two years of discussion among the Faculty have produced a consensus that, rather than being externally imposed, communication-intensive activities should emanate from departments and schools as natural and complementary extensions of their current instructional practices and curriculaum. Individual departments, with considerable Institute support and assistance, should be given the opportunity to shape the overall design of the new requirement. While academic and professional writing and speaking should always be concise, coherent, precise, and grammatically correct, disciplines vary significantly in specific conventions governing organization and style. Moreover, professional communities differ in their preferences for specific forms of written and oral discourse.


Consequently, the elements of effective writing and speaking that are general across disciplines should be emphasized early in a students career and, quite possibly, often within the context of General Institute Requirements. The aspects of effective communication that are discipline-specific should be integrated into undergraduate major programs. EachIndividual departments should possess primary authority for defining the communication abilities that are most important in itstheir discipline, includingdiscipline, including the capacity to write and speak clearly and persuasively to a wide-range of audiences. Furthermore, each department shoulddepartments should have considerable autonomy in designing and evaluating activities within its their undergraduate program to to develop these skills. These efforts by individual departments, however, to expand existing communication-intensive activities and to develop new ones, will require substantial support from Institute-wide programs and resources.

The primary role of the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement will be to guide, coordinate, and help evaluate these efforts to produce an overall design for a new Undergraduate Communication Requirement that is consistent with MIT's distinctive educational mission and that is feasible within the Institute's financial and curricular constraints.


The Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement has entrusted the HASS Overview Committee with much of the responsibility to identify (and, possibly, modify and expand) existing communication-intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences and to develop new ones. Consequently, the following procedures are intended primarily as guidelines for departments in the Schools of Architecture, Engineering, Management, and Science to use in developing and assessing junior and senior year activities within their undergraduate degree programs. These activities may already exist, may be modifications of current parts of the curriculum, or may be entirely new projects. The goal of the Subcommittee is to have these activities underway in most, if not all, departments during the 1998-99 academic year.

1. Each department should designate a member of its faculty to coordinate its communication-intensive projects and to serve as liaison between the department and the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement. This individual may be the current faculty departmental writing coordinator, the undergraduate officer, or any other interested faculty member.

2. By September 15, 1998, each department should send the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement a proposal for expanding existing communication-intensive activities or for developing new ones. Theones. The proposal should include the following elements:

a) a statement of objectives, including the specific communication abilities students will develop.

b) a description of instructional practices that will be used to achieve these objectives (which may include including activities already in place).

c) a description of the evaluation protocol that the department will use to assess the success of these activities; the protocol may include a combination of formal and informal metrics focused on both direct and indirect indicators of success.

d) a listing of the financial and staffing requirements of each activity.

3. The Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement will consider proposals from each department separately. The Subcommittee may accept a proposal or may request modifications, clarifications, or additions prior to further consideration. The Subcommittee's acceptance of a proposal will be separat= e from any recommendation by the Subcommittee to the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education for supplementary funds.

4. By December 1, 1999, each department should send the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement a brief status report on its continuing activities, communication-intensive pilot projects, or both. The report should include a restatement of the overall educational goals of the departmental initiatives and a narrative describing each experimental project or ongoing activity. It should also describe all formal and informal assessment procedures and the results of these evaluations. Finally, the report should outline the department'san overall plan for integrating instruction and practice in specific communication abilities into its undergraduate degree programs along with an estimate of the ongoing staffing and financial resources needed.

Class syllabi, writing assignments, and other relevant instructional materials from all department activities should be appended to the report along with a listing of all staffing and financial resources used. Departments should also include a representative sample of student writing or other appropriate materials from one or more communication-intensive activities.

Working groups of the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement, each composed of faculty from different Sschools of the Institute, will review these final reports and accompanying materials. In reviewing each report, the working groups will consider both the general elementscharacteristics of effective writing and speakingcommunication and the specific stylistic conventions specific to each professional fieldof the discipline. The groups will also consider the feasibility of each activity as part of a General Institute Communication Requirement. The evaluation of each program or activity will also consider its feasibility as part of a General Institute Communication Requirement.

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