Final Report of the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement

Appendix F

Excerpts From The Report Of The HASS Overview Committee,
October 1999, And Its Appendices


The Communication Requirement Initiative in HASS
 

Background
 
In academic year 1997 (AY97) the faculty voted in favor of a two-year period of experimental communication-intensive (CI) instruction in preparation for a possible new communication requirement. The CUP was charged with overseeing this experimental period and with developing a proposal for an Institute-wide communication requirement in time for a faculty vote in AY00. A special CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement Initiative, co-chaired by Professors Gene Brown and Langley Keyes, was appointed for this purpose.

Dean Philip Khoury charged the HOC with the responsibility for overseeing CI experiments in the HASS curriculum and with developing a policy for the school. During AY98 the committee, in consultation with School Council and other faculty, developed a white paper concerning how a communication requirement ought to be administered in SHSS and proposing a set of guidelines for CI instruction in HASS. We proposed that the communication requirement initiative (and an eventual requirement, if it is voted into place) be administered autonomously within SHSS, and the CUP subcommittee endorsed that proposal. We also proposed a set of guidelines for HASS-CI instruction: Relatively small class size, continuous writing exercises (including at least one major revision), and oral communication exercises, such as student presentations or student-led discussion. <The full text of the HOC white paper is given below.>
 

Pilot HASS CI Subjects
 

Using the HOC guidelines the Dean solicited proposals for pilot HASS-CI classes for AY99, which constituted the contribution of the HASS curriculum to the Institute-wide experiment The Committee on the Writing Requirement granted these classes experimental status as approved Phase One Writing Subjects: Students who passed their HASS CI with the grade equivalent of B- or higher automatically passed Phase 1 of MIT's current writing requirement. This was important, because it meant that the pilot HASS CI's had a student-motivating feature comparable to what they would have in a fully-realized new communication requirement. SHSS supplied funding to support the pilot HASS CI program. Instructors who took advantage of the available funds used them to hire writing tutors to assist with the increased personal attention and writing instruction that the CI classes required

Evaluation

At the time of writing, the HOC is engaged in an ongoing evaluation of the HASS CI experiment. We have taken two main approaches to this evaluation: Student self-assessment, using questionnaires administered at the end of each semester, and faculty feedback during informal roundtable discussions. In the first student survey, most (about 80%) reported that the writing helped their understanding of subject content and that instructor comments were useful. Over half reported significant general improvement in their expository prose, their ability to generate ideas, their ability to revise their own prose, and their organizational ability.
 
In the Spring term of AY99 we administered the questionnaire to students taking all HASS-D's (except the two arts practica subjects) as well as to all students taking HASS CI's. The mechanical criteria for HASS-D's emphasize communication skills through the writing and discussion requirements. Therefore we felt that comparing these two groups gave us a foundation for determining with greater confidence the effectiveness of HASS-CI classes.

For each of the 13 questions, the average for the aggregate of the CI subjects was higher than the aggregate average for non-CI HASS-D's. Moreover, with one exception, all of the differences were statistically significant (and the one that was not almost was). Although some of the higher scores for the CI subjects may be attributable to the "Hawthorne effect" (telling people you are doing something special makes them rate it higher), the consistency of the results offers some hard and convincing evidence for the success of the HASS CI experiment.

Faculty feedback, though less formal, has been rich and suggestive in terms of developing pedagogical strategies and identifying strengths and pitfalls associated with HASS CI instruction. Faculty testimony supports student opinion about the greater effectiveness of CI classes when it comes to teaching writing. We also learned from roundtable discussions among HASS CI faculty that, in general, CI instruction places considerably greater burdens upon faculty, because of the increased continuous individual feedback that it demands. The amount of increased pressure upon faculty is directly proportional to class size, except in the case of subjects with generous TA support. To the extent that, in a fully realized communication requirement, large numbers of students will have to be taught in HASS CI classes, some, if not many, of these will have to be large classes. Therefore, faculty will need additional teaching support, along the lines of the writing tutors that were assigned to some of the pilot CI classes, and this in turn will demand the allocation of considerable resources to our school.
 
Many faculty also reported that they experience tension between curricular content and writing instruction in their CI classes. The extent to which content is compromised varies greatly, and most faculty report a compensating improvement in depth of coverage that offsets some of the loss of breadth. Nonetheless, this tension is sure to aggravate the implementation of a full blown requirement in HASS.

In the area of oral communication skills, faculty reported that it is difficult for students to give oral presentations or to engage in meaningful discussion in introductory level classes: Students' breadth of knowledge and conceptual grasp is insufficiently developed to engage in meaningful discussion. These factors in turn undermine students' confidence, which in turn limits student's willingness to participate in discussion. For these reasons, faculty felt that the oral component of a Communication Requirement is more appropriate for relatively more advanced classes.
 

The Preliminary Phase
 
One initiative regarding communication instruction in HASS that developed independently of the HOC is the so-called "Preliminary Phase." This will require students who do poorly on their Freshman Essay Evaluations to take expository writing during their first year at MIT. A recent memo from the Committee on the Writing Requirement gave the background to this initiative:

Currently between 15-20% of each entering class receive, based on their performance on the Freshman Essay Evaluation, a strong recommendation to enroll in an expository writing subject during their freshman year. While most of these students scoring Subject Recommended on the Freshman Essay Evaluation eventually do complete a writing subject, unfortunately only about one-third of them do so during their first year, the remainder enrolling in their sophomore, junior, or senior years. These students, in particular, and the Institute, as a whole, will benefit substantially from their taking these classes at the beginning of their undergraduate career rather than at its end. The present system makes little educational sense, with the majority of these students receiving focused instruction in writing later in their academic careers and often only after repeated attempts to complete the current Writing Requirement. Currently, this cohort of students going through the undergraduate program makes it difficult, if not impossible, for instructors in all parts of the institute to pay proper attention to student writing. Informal reports from HASS, Engineering, and Science faculty consistently identify a bottom 20% of students whose writing problems require at least as much instructional effort as the remaining 80%.

The CUP has approved the Preliminary Phase on a 2-year experimental basis. Assuming that it becomes a permanent component of the writing requirement at MIT, the Preliminary Phase will be an important component of the Communication Requirement Initiative in HASS.
 
 




The Communication Initiative in the School of Humanities and

Social Science:
Preliminary Report

HASS Overview Committee
November 19, 1997

I. Overview

The Communication Initiative at MIT began a two year experimental phase this year, mandated by a vote of the faculty in April 1997. Dean Philip Khoury has charged the HASS Overview Committee (formerly the HASS-D Overview Committee) to oversee the contributions of the HASS Curriculum to the Communication Initiative during this period. The committee's first two meetings of this academic year were devoted to this subject. We discussed the ways in which contributions of the HASS Curriculum to the Communication Initiative can be solicited and, once in place, how they ought to be vetted.

Most of the general principles underlying the Communication Initiative were accepted by our committee, and those principles framed our discussion: Communication intensive experiences ought to be sustained experiences for the student. Students should take communication intensive classes at regular intervals during their four years, and each communication intensive class should provide sustained writing and speaking, with ample feedback, over the course of the semester. Students should have at least one opportunity to revise a major writing assignment in the light of professors' comments, suggestions and critiques. Oral communication skills should be developed in conjunction with written communication skills.

Many classes in the HASS Curriculum are already writing intensive. This is especially true of classes in the humanities, but it includes classes in the arts and social sciences that approach their subjects from humanistic perspectives. In the humanities, writing is central to the disciplines. For many scholars in the humanities, writing is not merely a means to express ideas and summarize activities of an essentially different nature (such as is the case when, say, a scientist writes an experimental report). Rather, the activity is the writing; subject and expression are indivisible. This inevitably affects the way in which humanistic disciplines are taught. In the humanities, writing, and the development of ideas through writing, are central to learning. Oral communication receives less consistent emphasis in the current teaching of humanities. Some faculty regard oral presentations by their students, with feedback, as part of the learning process and thus require it. Others regard writing and speaking as separate skills and emphasize writing over speaking. However, most humanities classes stress the importance of discussion, and supervised, student-led discussion, with professors' guidance and feedback, are a very effective means of developing students' oral communication skills.

While writing is central to scholarship and learning in all the humanities, disciplines (and teachers) differ with respect to details. Long, expository essays might be appropriate for a literature or history subject, for example, while shorter, closely argued papers are normally more appropriate in a philosophy class. There is a strong consensus among members of the Humanities Overview Committee -- echoed by our discussion with department heads and other interested faculty -- that specific criteria regarding the nature, length, and style of the writing that is required by the Communication Requirement ought not to be developed externally to the subjects taught in the HASS Curriculum and then applied uniformly across disciplines. Rather, the nature of the writing that satisfies a Communication Requirement should flow naturally from the proclivities of the specific subject being taught and the professor who is teaching it.

Having said this, however, MIT does already have in place a General Institute Requirement that demands sustained writing and speaking according to criteria that are applied across disciplines in the HASS Curriculum, namely the HASS-D requirement. With some adjustments, many of those classes, as well as many HASS-E's that similarly demand sustained writing and speaking, can easily be designated 'Communication Intensive' (CI). The contributions of the HASS Curriculum to the new Communication Requirement will consist primarily of such classes, thus leveraging the kinds of learning that is already in place. New, additional communication intensive classes in the HASS Curriculum will of course be encouraged, but they will not be our main contribution.

The discussion here concerns the moderate sized classes that are typical of the humanities. Large lecture classes in the social sciences will no doubt require creative solutions of a different nature, perhaps along the lines of the writing practica that are already in place in some large science and engineering classes. Similarly, small seminars and tutorials, most of which are certainly communication intensive, are not addressed here.

2. CI HASS-D

The mechanical criteria for HASS-D's determine that they each require a minimum of 20 pages of writing. This work must be distributed among a minimum of three separate paper assignments, thus ensuring that the writing is sustained. Furthermore, there is a component to all HASS-D's that affects the students' oral skills: Every HASS-D must include a minimum of 1 hour of discussion per week. Because of these criteria, many, perhaps most, HASS-D's already constitute communication intensive experiences.

A communication intensive HASS distribution subject (CI HASS-D) would include an opportunity for each student to revise at least one major writing assignment in the light of the professor's critique. Moreover, in place of discussion of a general nature, which we presume is normally led by the professor, a CI HASS-D will have student led discussion: Each student will have an opportunity to lead a discussion at least once over the course of the semester, with the professor's guidance and substantial feedback. Alternatively, the oral component of the Communication Requirement might be met by student presentations, at the professor's discretion, again with substantial feedback. Other models are possible. In order to allow an increased amount of individual attention, CI HASS-D's will have an enrollment cap (e.g. 15) that is set lower than that of regular HASS-D's (28). The additional work that is demanded of students in a CI HASS-D will replace the final exam that is required in normal HASS-D's. Finally, in order to acquire CI credit for a CI HASS-D, students will be required to earn a minimum grade of 'B;' grades less than a B will continue to earn HASS-D and general institute credit, but a grade of less than B will not satisfy the Communication Requirement. (This grade requirement is at odds with Institute policy regarding Freshmen, whose grades are internal and not part of their permanent academic record. However, we understand that a separate CI classes will be provided for Freshman in the new Requirement.)

3. CI HASS-E

The shape and structure of most humanities electives that fulfill the communication requirement (CI HASS-E) will be the same as those that affect CI HASS-D's with regard to sustained writing (with revision) and speaking (with feedback), the enrollment cap, and the minimum grade requirement. They may differ with regard to the specific nature and style of the writing and speaking that takes place, according to the proclivities of the discipline and the instructor. Instructors of HASS-E classes who wish to be granted CI licenses will have to argue each case, and the HASS Overview Committee will decide each one on an individual basis.

4. Vetting

As with any General Institute Requirement, a mechanism must be set into place that allows the CUP to interrogate the ways in which the Communication Requirement is being met. Since we envision variety and nuance from subject to subject with regard to how the Communication Initiative is accomplished in the HASS Curriculum, the vetting of communication intensive subjects will need to be handled with sensitivity to the disciplinary conditions that drive those variations. Moreover, many CI HASS classes will be subjects that are central to the curricula of our departments rather than newly minted subjects that are designed from scratch to meet the new requirement. The most effective ways to teach proficiency in any discipline entails expert judgment by the faculty in that discipline about classes' content and design. Thus, the vetting of such classes by individuals outside the department or section is a very sensitive matter.

For these reasons, the primary agency that oversees the Communication Requirement in HASS Curriculum should be within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. We propose that the HASS Overview Committee (HOC) be assigned that responsibility. The HOC will judge how effectively the principles outlined here have been interpreted from subject to subject. The HOC will be empowered to grant or deny CI licenses to HASS subjects based upon those judgments. The licensing process will be developed along lines that are similar to that presently in place for HASS-D's, except that we propose the criteria for the Communication Requirement as guidelines rather than rules, allowing for greater flexibility and nuance. Classes that are recommended to the HOC for CI licenses will undergo careful initial scrutiny by the committee and possibly some negotiation with the instructors. CI licenses, like HASS-D licenses, will be periodically reviewed. Department and section chairs will be called upon to mediate between the HOC and individual faculty much more actively than they are in the present HASS-D system. We hope that this decentralization will establish the Communication Requirement as a cooperative effort throughout the HASS Curriculum rather than a requirement that is imposed and administered from above. The agency responsible for oversight of the Communication Requirement throughout MIT will of course be the CUP. Just as department and section chairs will be responsible to the HOC, so the HOC will be responsible to the CUP.

5. Reservations

Most members of the HASS Overview Committee have concerns about the proposed new Communication Requirement. Some of these stem from a sense of doubt that the basis for new requirement has been thought through with sufficient clarity. What is the nature of the problem that this Requirement aims to address? Is it that MIT students, even after four or more years here, display the kind of inability to communicate effectively that bespeaks a failure to have received the broad-based education that a premier institution should be giving its graduates? Or is it that, even upon graduating, they find themselves lacking the specific communication skills needed for success in their chosen careers?

We also feel that the contribution of the idiosyncrasies of the culture of MIT to the writing problem, whatever it is defined to be, has not been adequately addressed. MIT students are bombarded by the message that certain of their courses are much more important than others. Among the ones typically deemed less important are those which, if taken seriously, would give the students the kind of practice in writing and speaking that they need, especially humanities subjects. Moreover, science and engineering courses are typically cumulative in a way that humanities courses are not. Students will routinely ask for an extension on the HASS-D paper because they have a problem set coming due, but they rarely ask for an extension on the problem set because they have a paper coming due. (No surprise, either, that so many of the HASS syllabuses include explicit requirements on attendance and participation that would, at any other school in MIT's league, seem excessively patronizing and punitive.) Students often have a clearer sense than faculty of the effects of MIT's culture. The problem should continue to be closely studied during the "experimental' period by instituting regular discussions with small groups of undergraduates.

If this characterization of the existing state of affairs is accurate, it would seem to be far better, on the face of it, to address the 'writing problem' by playing to our existing strengths rather than by instituting a new requirement. We think it might be possible to improve writing skills among MIT undergraduates in a much simpler way by requiring that every undergraduate once a year take a writing intensive class of a type that already exists. Every student would have to take at least one of the following per year: a writing intensive HASS-D or writing intensive HASS-E, an expository writing class offered by Writing and Humanistic Studies, or a science, engineering or social science class that has a writing practicum attached to it. In this way it might be possible to provide each student a sustained experience with writing over her four years as an undergraduate in the context of existing departmental and Institute requirements. An informal model of this sort, and no doubt there are many others, might well garner more support than the proposed new Communication Requirement among faculty across the Institute. Our students already feel overburdened by requirements=2E We hope that the experimental period will afford ample opportunity to consider alternative ways to improve our students' writing and speaking skills without necessarily imposing another complicated, costly new requirement upon them.

HASS Overview Committee:
Peter Child (Chair)
Bette Davis (ex officio)
Peter Donaldson
Ned Hall
Frank Levy
Megan Hepler (student representative)
Elizabeth Wood



 

Pilot HASS CI Subjects

AY1999



Fall

11.018 Solving the Infrastructure Crisis (HASS Elective
11.020 Poverty, Public Policy, and Controversy (HASS-D)
21H.521 Ancient Japan and the Courtly Society (HASS Elective)
21L.010J / 21W.734J Introduction to Textual Analysis (HASS Elective)
21M.252 Song (HASS Elective)
21M.500 Senior Seminar in Music (HASS Elective)
21M.621 Theater and Cultural Diversity in the US (HASS-D)
21M.655 Script Analysis (HASS Elective)
21W.739J / 21L.448J Darwin & Design (HASS-D)
24.04J/17.115J Justice (HASS-D)
24.260 Topics in Philosophy (HASS Elective)
SP.353 Technologies and Cultures [Integrated Studies Program] (HASS-D)
STS.002 Toward the Scientific Revolution (HASS-D)

Spring

21F.018 Bilingualism: Language, Culture, and Experience (HASS-D)
21H.315 Writing the History of Modern Europe (HASS Elective)
21L.005 Introduction to Dramatic Art (HASS-D)
21L.010J/21W.734J Introduction to Textual Analysis (HASS Elective)
21M.011 Introduction to Western Music (HASS-D)
21W.747 Rhetoric (HASS Elective)
24.221 Metaphysics (HASS Elective)
SP.354 Technologies in Historical Perspective [Integrated Studies Program]
(HASS-D)
STS.023J / SP.706J Historic Experimentation (HASS Elective)
STS.034 The Prehistory of Computers (HASS Elective)
STS.066 Brains and Culture (HASS Elective)


AY 2000

Fall

11.020, Poverty, Public Policy and Controversy (HASS-D)
24.04/17.115, Justice (HASS-D)
17.241 Introduction to the American Political Process (HASS-D)
21F.???Women's Memoirs: Lives and Words (HASS-E)
21F.028J, Sex Roles in Fiction: Europe and Latin America [SP.432J] (HASS Elective)
21H.522 Japan in the Age of the Samurai (HASS Elective)
21L.001, Foundations of Western Culture I: Homer to Dante (HASS-D)
21L010/21W.734, Writing About Literature (HASS Elective)
21L.448J, Darwin and Design (HASS-D)
21L.485, Twentieth Century Fiction (HASS Elective)
21M.011 Introduction to Western Music (HASS-D)
21M.655 Script Analysis (HASS Elective)
24.02 What is the best way to live? (HASS-D)
21W.747, Rhetoric (HASS Elective)

Spring

21A231/SP455, Gender, Sexuality and Society (HASS Elective)
21F.018, Bilingualism (HASS-D)
21H.105 American Classics (HASS-D)
21L.005, Introduction to Drama (HASS-D)
21L010/21W.734, Writing About Literature (HASS Elective)
24.202 Modern philosophy (HASS Elective)
STS.034, The Prehistory of Computers (HASS Elective)
21M.785, Playwrights Workshop (HASS Elective)
21W.747, Rhetoric (HASS Elective)

 


 

Student Questionnaires

1. HASS CI Classes, Fall '98

Table 1: Questions Ranked in Descending Order of Percentage of Positive Responses (4's and 5's combined)

 
 
1: Not at all
2
3
4
5: Very Much
4 & 5 Combined
Instructor comments on papers were useful
2.4%
6.5%
10.7%
32.7%
47.6%
80.4%
The writing assignments helped me understand the course content 
2.4%
3.0%
16.8%
26.9%
50.9%
77.8%
Improved my expository and argumentative prose.
1.8%
15.0%
24.6%
40.1%
18.6%
58.7%
I learned to generate interesting and relevant ideas for my papers
3.6%
13.2%
25.1%
38.9%
19.2%
58.1%
Improved my ability to revise and edit my own prose
4.8%
16.2%
22.2%
33.5%
23.4%
56.9%
I improved my ability to organize my papers effectively. 
4.8%
9.6%
31.1%
31.7%
22.8%
54.5%
The class improved my ability to participate in discussions.
10.2%
19.2%
18.6%
27.5%
24.6%
52.1%
The class improved my ability to write longer papers with extended arguments. 
7.1%
16.1%
26.8%
29.2%
20.8%
50.0%
Improved my ability to write concise and stylistically effective sentences. 
8.4%
15.0%
31.7%
29.3%
15.6%
44.9%
The class improved my ability to make my prose fit the specific audience for which it was written.
7.8%
20.4%
29.9%
29.3%
12.6%
41.9%
Comments from classmates were useful. 
15.3%
17.3%
27.3%
22.0%
18.0%
40.0%
The class improved my ability to give oral presentations.
30.0%
11.2%
22.5%
21.2%
15.0%
36.2%
The class made me less afraid of writing. 
25.8%
18.2%
25.2%
18.2%
12.6%
30.8%
The class made writing a less painful process.
24.7%
21.6%
28.4%
16.7%
8.6%
25.3%

 

2. HASS CI & HASS-D Subjects, Spring '99

Table 1: Comparisons of Means and Variance

1 = "Not at all" 5 = "Very Much"
  CI Subjects     Non-CI Subjects      
 
Mean
Variance
N
Mean
Variance
N
T
1. The class improved my ability to write expository and argumentative prose.
3.43
1.01
148
3.19
1.14
536
2.44 **
2. The class improved my ability to generate interesting and relevant ideas for my papers.
3.72
0.99
148
3.49
1.20
537
2.29 *
3. The class improved my ability to organize my papers effectively.
3.50
0.98
149
3.21
1.13
537
2.44 **
4. The class improved my ability to make my prose fit a specific audience.
3.33
1.04
148
2.99
1.18
531
3.43 ***
5. The class improved my ability to revise and edit my own prose.
3.36
0.97
148
2.98
1.44
536
3.59 ***
6. The class improved my ability to provide helpful comments on the writing of others.
2.61
1.47
145
1.85
1.36
486
7.34 ***
7. The class improved my ability to write concise and stylistically appropriate sentences.
3.30
0.90
149
2.89
1.27
532
4.54 ***
8. Instructor comments on papers were useful.
4.10
0.91
148
3.76
1.32
539
3.14 ***
9. Comments from classmates were useful.
3.34
1.17
149
3.16
1.45
536
1.73 *
10. The class improved my ability to participate in discussions.
3.47
1.30
148
3.13
1.61
536
2.90 **
11. The class improved my ability to write longer papers with extended arguments.
3.34
1.17
149
3.16
1.45
526
1.61
12. The class improved my ability to give oral presentations.
2.76
1.70
141
1.77
1.30
459
8.57 ***
13. The writing assignments helped me understand the course content.
4.01
0.95
147
3.72
1.33
540
2.05 *

* P <= 0.05 **P <= 0.01 ***P <= 0.001 LCP 6/22/99

 


 

HASS CI Faculty Roundtable Discussion:

Fall 1998

On November 12, 1998, HASS faculty who are teaching pilot HASS CI subjects during AY 1999 participated in the roundtable discussion of Communication Intensive (CI) teaching in the HASS Curriculum. The meeting was very well attended. There was a pleasantly collegial, animated tone to the discussion. Faculty from diverse disciplines within the HASS curriculum shared stories and strategies from their classroom experiences, debated ideas, and articulated concerns.

The discussion revolved around certain themes:

1. The record of HASS-CI subjects so far.

Across the board faculty reported that the introduction of CI instruction into their subjects has been a success. Faculty shared strategies that they have used to revise their classes to be more communication intensive. These different strategies mostly concerned the number, size, and grading of papers, the ways that revision has been incorporated into the writing assignments, the distribution of paper assignments throughout the term, and different ways to develop students' oral communication skills. All faculty reported that there has been improvement, in some cases remarkable improvement, as a result of their focus upon writing and speaking. Some of the benefits of incorporating a focus upon communication skills were unexpected. For example, because their work is assessed on a more continuous basis, students' attendance and intellectual engagement with the subject is consistently higher in some classes than it has been in the past.

One serious concern persists: The CI component has caused a reduction in the amount covered in some classes. Although reduction in "breadth" has been partly compensated by improved "depth," the issue of content continues to be a concern.

2. Resources.

Teaching HASS classes communication-intensively was generally reported to place a much heavier burden upon faculty. One-on-one instruction is the most helpful, with a line-by-line response to student's papers. This burden is ameliorated in the large lecture classes where the onus of writing instruction falls mainly upon T.A.'s and recitation instructors. If T.A.'s are used more widely in HASS there is concern about what the effect would be upon the overall quality of teaching in the HASS curriculum.

Some smaller pilot CI classes presently have writing tutors assigned to them, and this is working well. The Writing Center has tutors, including subject-specific tutors, who can be helpful to HASS faculty. At the same time, some HASS faculty feel that helping students with their writing is the essence of what their teaching is about, partly because the writing is not separable from the content of students papers. Those faculty are reluctant to share the responsibility for grading papers. Enrollment in such classes must be kept small. There is concern that a Communication Requirement will overtax many of our faculty by excessively increasing their teaching obligations.

If the HASS curriculum is to introduce a Communication Requirement, we need to develop a clear conception of what additional resources we will need to do this effectively and without unhappy, unintended consequences to the quality of teaching in HASS. The MIT administration also needs to make a clear commitment to provide those additional resources.

3. The importance of reforms in the first year curriculum.

Our ability to fulfill all aspects of the educational mission of the HASS curriculum, including teaching communication skills, is severely limited by conditions that are peculiar to the MIT culture. The science and engineering subjects that students take either through the GIR's or their major departments place heavy demands upon students' time and energy, and HASS subjects generally have a low priority. The first year suffers in this regard in a particular way. Because all subjects that students take in their first year are pass-fail, many try to cram difficult science core subjects, for which they are not really ready, into their first year. Reforms of the curriculum are presently being considered that would free up the first year and allow students to distribute their energy among more diverse interests. These reforms have to do, in part, with grades: Students will be allowed to take their science core subjects pass-fail no matter when they take them. The hoped-for effect is that many students will distribute their science core subjects in a more manageable way. A further reform under consideration that would impact HASS is that first-year students will take HASS-D's for grade. This reform would make a clear statement about the value that MIT places upon the HASS-D requirement. Taken together, these reforms of the first year curriculum will bring into effect a small but significant change in MIT culture encouraging students to devote more time and energy to HASS subjects.

A second important reform concerning the first year that is presently under consideration has to do with expository writing subjects. Approximately one third of MIT undergraduates presently take an entry-level writing subject. Many of these were advised to take such a subject on the basis of their performance on the Freshman Essay Evaluation. Most, however, take expository writing late in their undergraduate careers, after they have already taken HASS (and other) subjects that require writing. Pedagogically this makes little sense. A new approach is presently being considered that would require all students who are diagnosed to be deficient in their writing skills to take expository writing in their first year.





HASS CI Faculty Roundtable Discussion:

Spring 1999

Discussion focused on two main topics: 1) Pedagogical conflicts: the difficulty of reconciling =EBcontent' and =EBwriting instruction' in HASS-CI classes; 2) Oral communication. Faculty also reported on pedagogical strategies that they had used in CI classes and evaluated their effectiveness, discussed other relevant experiences, and addressed a few additional miscellaneous topics.

1. Content versus Writing

CI emphasis displaces some content in some classes: Some faculty estimate that 20% to 33% of content is displaced; one testified that the additional writing and oral reports were added at the expense of enrichment activities and explorations that had formerly embellished the main focus of her class. Loss of content, however, is outweighed by the gain to students, both in terms of the development of their communication skills and in terms of the greater depth of coverage that the CI excercises encouraged.

On the other hand, CI classes are not writing classes as such; they are writing-intensive classes. Classes that implemented less extreme reforms than others suffered proportionately less compromise of content. It is likely that many of the faculty who volunteered to participate in the pilot phase of the Communication Requirement Initiative in HASS approached the teaching of writing and speaking with more zeal and introduced more radical reforms in their classes than the general faculty would. Moreover, if the Communication Requirement goes into effect along lines that are currently being envisaged, each class will be only one element in a four-year CI sequence. The ambition and scope of the CI component of each HASS class should be calibrated with that in mind.

The discussion of how extensive the writing component of a CI class ought to be is important because it affects how easily CI reforms might be implemented across the HASS curriculum. For example, if CI requires only a moderate change of emphasis in HASS-D's (e.g. replacing a final exam with a revision exercise and reducing enrollment caps from 25 to 18 per section), CI reform of HASS-D's could be widespread without inflicting damage to our curriculum. If, on the other hand, CI reforms need to be more radical and exact a greater toll on subject content, they will have to be implemented selectively and with great care.
 

2. The Oral Component

Gene Brown, co-chair of the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement Initiative, indicated that the subcommittee is beginning to focus on the issue of oral communication. While he feels the subcommittee will have a well-formed proposal as regards the writing component of the Communication Requirement in time for the faculty vote in the Spring of 2000, he feels less sanguine about the oral component.

It is hard to get students to respond to student presentations in our classes. In part this reflects the MIT culture and students general lack of engagement with HASS issues. In part it reflects the difficulty of sustaining an inclusive, animated discussion in classes that have 15-18 students: They are simply too large. In a fifty minute class with 18 students, allowing say 5 minutes for the instructor to introduce a topic, each student would have 2.5 minutes in which to talk: Obviously you cannot teach oral communication skills under such circumstances.

Moreover, student presentations and informed discussion are very difficult to do effectively in introductory classes. Students have insufficient knowledge of important materials and grasp of important concepts. There was widespread agreement that the oral component of the Communication Requirement should be postponed to the second two (junior and senior) years, and the focus in the freshman and sophomore years should be upon writing.

3. Miscellaneous

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mitComments to CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement
Last modified: February 14, 2000