Final Report of the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement

3. Proposal for a New Communication Requirement

3.1 General Principles:

3.2 Report Of The School Of Humanities And Social Science And the HASS Overview Committee On The Design Of The HASS Component Of The Communication Requirement.

The Subcommittee requested that the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the HASS Overview Committee (HOC) develop a Communication-intensive curriculum in HASS that would provide students with instruction and practice in general expository writing skills. In December 1999, the Subcommittee received the following report and has incorporated it into its overall design of the new requirement:

Introduction. As part of the new Communication Requirement at MIT, the School of Humanities and Social Science and the School of Architecture and Planning, which together offer the undergraduate HASS curriculum, are proposing to offer a series of Communication-intensive (CI) subjects. Students will take these subjects to fulfill the first half of the four-year CI requirement, as designed by a subcommittee of the CUP. Although many HASS CI subjects will also be HASS-D subjects, many will be drawn from HASS undergraduate electives. Undergraduates will usually be required to take a minimum of two such CI subjects in their freshman and sophomore years. The new communication requirement, which will be based on sustained opportunities for repeated practice and improvement in writing and speaking, will replace the existing writing requirement, which is based on student demonstration of competency.

The proposed communication requirement will reinforce undergraduate student writing at MIT in thefollowing new ways: (1) All students who do not perform satisfactorily on the Freshman Essay Evaluation will be required to take in their first year an expository writing subject with heavy emphasis on the fundamentals of writing; (2) In each of their first two years, MIT students will be required to take a HASS subject that has serious writing, revising and speaking components; (3) In meeting the CI subject guidelines, many HASS faculty will revise existing subjects in HASS to strengthen their writing, revising and speaking components; (4) HASS faculty will receive additional financial resources from the Institute to support their teaching of CI subjects; and (5) A HASS-wide committee will monitor the teaching of communication in CI subjects and support various efforts to improve the effectiveness of the Communication Requirement.

Criteria for HASS CI Subjects. Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.

Such writing fellows should be funded by resources provided by the central administration, which should also subsidize additional sections in subjects where the cap of 18 students per section will produce a reduction in available places.

These requirements represent an attempt to balance respect for faculty autonomy in designing their classes with recognition that any requirement--especially one of this kind--that is not enforced will not end up contributing much more than another layer of bureaucracy for faculty and students to complain about. Therefore it is extremely important that the body charged with overseeing this requirement approach their responsibilities with seriousness and vigor.

Overview. A committee composed of 4 or 5 members from the HASS faculty who have demonstrated a commitment to improving undergraduate writing will enforce CI guidelines. In the period during which HOC continues with the tasks it presently has, one faculty member will serve on both HOC and CI committees. One member should be the head of Writing and Humanistic Studies or a designated alternative.

The CI committee will review proposals for new CI subjects and periodically review already existing CI subjects in a manner similar to HOC's current procedures for HASS-Ds (see appendix). For subjects with sections taught by TA's, the inquiry will include:

If the findings of this review indicate, the CI committee will be authorized to revoke the CI status of a multi-section CI subject, even though its syllabus complies with CI guidelines.

3.3 Description Of The New Requirement

The basic structure of the new curriculum is displayed in Figure 1.

Figure 1. General Outline of Student Progress through the Communication Requirement. Some students, however, may take two CI subjects in their second year and then have the option of skipping one year. Moreover, students in some majors will have the option of substituting a CI subject in HASS or another department for a CI subject in their major.

    3.3.1 Freshman year

      Approximately 20% of each entering class will be required to take an expository writing subject, and an estimated additional 10 to 15% of entering students will voluntarily choose to take one of them. Of the 15% to 20% of the entering class participating in Special Freshman Programs, some may take a HASS CI subject associated with the program. The remaining students will take a CI subject as part of their HASS requirement.

    3.3.2 Sophomore year

        Students will take one additional HASS CI subject. In some undergraduate programs, students may also take an additional CI subject in their sophomore year as part of their major.

    3.3.3 Junior and Senior years

      Students will normally take one CI subject in their major during their junior year and one CI major subject in their senior year. However, students who take both a HASS CI subject and a CI subject in their major during their sophomore year may be required to take only one additional CI subject during their junior and senior years. Students in five-year programs must complete their third CI subject by the end of their third year, but will have the option, if they elect to receive the SB and M. Eng. degrees simultaneously, of completing the fourth CI subject in their fifth year.

      Departments will design their undergraduate programs so that students will be required to take at least two CI subjects within their major program. Students may, however, with departmental approval, substitute a third CI subject in another department for one of the two CI departmental subjects.

3.4 Phase-in of Requirement

3.5 Administrative and Instructional Support

Departments are encouraged to develop their own resources and staff for instruction in writing and speaking. However, substantial Institute resources will be provided primarily through a new interdepartmental Communication Resource Center, housed in and administered by the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. The Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement and the Office of Academic Services will jointly develop procedures for tracking student progress through the Requirement.

3.6 Governance

The Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement, a stan= ding Subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, will oversee and establish policy for the Communication Requirement and, in collaboration with the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, set policy for the Interdepartmental Communication Resource Center. The Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement shall consist of five Faculty members, representat= ive of all Schools of the Institute, two undergraduate student members, and the following ex officiis, voting members: the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education or a designated representative, the Head of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies or a designated representative, and the Coordinator of the ESL (English as a Second Language) Program. The Chair of the Subcommittee and its members shall be appointed by the Chair of the CUP in consultation with the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education.

The Subcommittee shall act with power in

    a) setting general guidelines for department CI classes and designating specific subjects in each undergraduate major program as communication intensive;

    b) collaborating with the HASS Overview Committee in establishing guidelines for HASS CI subjects;

    c) overseeing the evaluation of the writing ability of entering undergraduates and exempting those students who display competency in expository writing from being required to enroll in designated writing subjects during their first year at the Institute;

    d) defining priorities for instructional support of CI subjects throughout the Institute and collaborating with the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies to set policy for the Communication Resource Center;

    e) performing all of the functions of the Committee on the Writing Requirement in overseeing the administration of the Writing Requirement for students entering the Institute prior to the summer of 2001;

    f) administering and managing the transition from the Writing Requirement to the Communication Requirement;

    g) periodically reviewing and evaluating the effectiveness of specific CI subjects as well the overall efficacy of the Communication Requirement.

The Subcommittee shall report to the CUP and shall report to the Faculty on the progress of the new curriculum in Spring 2001, Spring 2003, and Spring 2005.

3.7 Implementation Issues

In implementing the Communication Requirement, the Subcommittee of the Communication Requirement shall, in consultation with the CUP, the HASS Overview Committee, and departments, develop specific policies to address the following issues:

3.7.1 Minimum Grade for Completion of CI Subject

Should a minimum grade in a CI subject be required to count for completion of part of the Communication Requirement? If so, what should that minimum grade be? Additionally, should the minimum grade be uniform for all parts of the new Requirement?

3.7.2 Maintaining Flexibility within the HASS Curriculum.

How can the HASS component of the Communication Requirement be structured to minimize any reduction of student choice and to ensure that students in the first two years will still have access to programs in HASS such as Music and Foreign Languages?

3.8 Enforcement

A student's failure to complete the required number of CI subjects by the end of each academic year shall be considered lack of normal progress toward the SB degree.

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