2. Subcommittee Activities
The Subcommittee began meeting in the Fall of 1997. It adopted
general design principles articulated in the original 1997 report to the
by the Committee on the Writing Requirement proposing a new Communication
- Instruction in writing and speaking should develop abilities in both
and technical exposition and should be integrated across all schools of
Institute, in both a student's major and in the General Institute
- Experience and instruction in both writing and speaking should occur in
each of the four years of the undergraduate program and should be
with frequent and timely feedback from qualified instructors.
- The responsibility of integrating writing and speaking into the
program should be shared by all schools and departments.
- Oversight of this new curriculum should consist of flexible
between an Institute-wide committee and individual schools and
The Co-chairs met with each of the school deans and began meeting with
academic departments. Following these discussions, the Subcommittee decided to
delegate the responsibility for defining, developing, and supervising
pilot programs to academic departments and schools. Moreover, the Subcommittee
decided that these academic units were better suited than the Subcommittee to
evaluate the efficacy of these programs. Consequently, in early 1998, the
published "Guidelines for Departmental Development and Assessment of
Curricular Activities" (Appendix C). This document asked departments to submit
proposals for expanding existing communication-intensive activities within
current undergraduate programs or for developing new ones. In addition, the
delegated to the HASS Overview Committee (HOC) the primary responsibility for
identifying existing communication-intensive subjects in the humanities, arts,
and social sciences and for developing new ones.
- The Institute should provide adequate financial and human resources to
ensure the effectiveness of the Requirement.
Professor Rosalind H. Williams, Dean of Students and Undergraduate
and Principal Investigator for National Science Foundation Grant DUE
"Developing a Communication-Intensive Undergraduate Curriculum in
Engineering, and Technology," delegated substantial authority to the
Co-chairs to disperse funds from this award. The grant was specifically
to support the Faculty initiative to develop a communication-intensive
This support, along with other financial support from the School of
and Social Sciences, the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate
and the Barker Foundation, was crucial in developing and maintaining the
2.1 Summary of Communication-intensive Experiments
2.1.1 HASS Pilot Programs.
Beginning in Fall 1998, the HASS Overview Committee (HOC) initiated
CI subjects within the HASS curriculum. Over the past three terms, over
students have taken these HASS CI subjects. In October 1999, the HASS
Committee concluded in its review of the HASS curriculum that there is
and convincing evidence for the success of the HASS CI experiment."
from the HOC Review, including student survey data and summaries of
by HASS Faculty teaching CI HASS subjects, are included in Appendix F
2.1.2 Departmental Pilot Projects and Experiments:
Descriptions of Representative Projects.
The diversity, ingenuity, and effectiveness of departmental
the wisdom of decentralizing the development of a communication-intensive
curriculum. Of the 16 pilot projects in 11 departments, 10 were evaluated
by the faculty involved as significantly improving student
Some of these projects are already serving as models for instruction at
universities. The following are brief descriptions of some representative
projects. (A complete list of these projects with summary evaluations
in Appendix D.)
- Laboratory tutorials in mechanical engineering. Working
John Heywood, the Undergraduate Writing Cooperative has begun intensive
group tutorials for students writing laboratory reports in 2.672, the
engineering project laboratory. In addition, instruction in speaking and
teamwork skills is a regular part of the Course 2 undergraduate
- Tutorials in oral presentation and writing in Architecture design
subjects. Students in all senior design seminars participate in
conducted by the Undergraduate Writing Cooperative staff from the
in Writing and Humanistic Studies. In these tutorials, students practice
their design presentations, review videotapes of the presentation
tutor, and revise their written design reports.
- Writing clinics in 6.021J. In Quantitative Physiology:
and Tissues, Professor Dennis Freeman has established writing
connected to the two large required laboratory reports. These two
are staffed by Professor Freeman and his TA's, with additional
an instructor from the Undergraduate Writing Cooperative. In
Freeman has integrated short writing assignments into the subject's
- The Biology Undergraduate Journal and intensive instruction
in writing and speaking in Project Laboratory subjects.
Department's initiative, led by Professor Paul Matsudaira and
staff from the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, has developed
several highly successful and innovative programs. Instruction,
and substantial feedback in both writing and speaking are now fully
within the junior year project laboratory. Project lab faculty report a
dramatic improvement from prior years in both student written reports
oral presentations. Plans are underway to develop a similar but more
instructional model for the first Biology laboratory subject, 7.02,
by over 20% of undergraduates at MIT.
The Biology department's most successful and visible initiative
the Biology Undergraduate Journal, created and edited by
Matsudaira. By making writing a normal and regular outcome of
research, the Biology department has extended the basic approach
of the UROP program to the teaching of writing. Students no longer
scientific writing as a chore to be completed for graduation but
as an opportunity for them to display their research efforts in an
and highly motivating context.
- Tutorials and papers in subjects in advanced quantum physics.
In Spring 1998, Professor Robert Jaffe began requiring all undergraduate
students to write a theoretical paper in the advanced undergraduate
Physics subject, 8.059. Physics graduate students were trained as tutors
to help students revise their drafts, and students were also trained to
peer-review each other's papers. The practice was repeated in Spring
and now has become a regular feature of the class. The physics
that the overall quality of the student papers has been excellent.
In reviewing departmental reports on these experiments, the Subcommittee
has come to the following conclusions:
- In some departments, particularly in the School of Engineering,
and practice in written and oral communication is already a central and
vital part of the major program. (A list of existing communication
appears in Appendix E.)
- Integrating writing and speaking into undergraduate scientific and
majors is feasible, and can be done without substantially increasing
workload. Indeed, in some cases, having students review and revise
before submitting reports to staff teaching scientific and technical
may slightly reduce the workload of some faculty.
- In many cases, instructional staff in CI science and engineering
require additional help from staff trained to teach writing and
- Because graduate students are often involved in providing instruction
and feedback in CI subjects, their training and supervision is crucial.
Several effective models for training Graduate Teaching Assistants have
been developed. These models, however, need to be further refined and
to provide thorough training and supervision for all graduate
non-regular teaching staff involved in CI subjects.
- The content and pedagogical approaches of some technical and
subjects in each major make them easily transformable into CI
certain subjects in each major are probably not suited to such a
- There is no single model for integrating writing and speaking into
Rather, the most effective designs are defined through a subject's
assignments, and overall educational goals.
- Faculty need access to an ongoing source of funding and other
for the continual development and refinement of CI subjects.
2.2 Required Expository Writing In The First Year And
In The Freshman Essay Evaluation
Initiatives by departments to integrate writing into their subjects has
attention to the need for the proper sequencing of writing instruction
the undergraduate program. If faculty are going to require their students to
write more, they need assurance that all of these students possess basic
in writing. However, each year approximately 20% of the students in an
class are identified by the Freshman Essay Evaluation as severely deficient
in expository writing skills. Previously, these students received only a
recommendation to enroll in a writing subject during their first yeara
recommendation that most of them ignored. Instead, the majority of students
in this group unsuccessfully tried to complete Phase One of the Writing
by other means and finally took an expository writing class as juniors or
This group of students has long been a major impediment to making
integral component of the undergraduate curriculum. There have been
anecdotal reports from faculty in HASS, engineering, and science subjects
although these students usually constitute only about one-fifth of a class,
responding to their written assignments demands an excessive amount of
time. Furthermore, permitting these students to delay receiving instruction
and practice in expository writing until near the end of their undergraduate
careers is inefficient. Students end up taking a writing subject only
will have the least effect on their undergraduate performance.
The Subcommittee concluded that requiring these students to take an
writing subject during their first year at MIT is a critical first step
a communication-intensive curriculum. This policy not only presents a
sequence of writing instruction, but it also encourages faculty to
writing in their classes by ensuring that all of their students will possess
a minimum level of competency. Furthermore, these benefits are achieved with
almost no long-term increase in net cost. Because most of these students
take an expository writing subject, such a requirement will produce no
increase in overall enrollments, although there will be a transitional
in enrollments for two to three years.
The Subcommittee and the Committee on the Writing Requirement then
that the CUP sanction a two-year experiment that would require students
significant deficiencies in writing skills on the Freshman Essay Evaluation
(previously receiving the designation "Not Acceptable- Subject Recommended") take an entry-level expository
writing subject during their first year at the Institute. The CUP
request, and the experiment began in Fall 1999.
2.2.1 Changes in the Freshman Essay
This experiment changed the function of the Freshman Essay Evaluation
from that of a diagnostic instrument making recommendations to a placement
test requiring some students to take specific subjects. Consequently, the
test needs to be both a reliable and valid measure of student writing. In
1998, acting on a suggestion from the Chair of the Committee on
Admissions and Financial Aid (CUAFA), the Committee on the Writing
experimented with giving the test online to students during the summer
they arrived at MIT. Because the online essay questions are now based
and students have the opportunity to revise their work, this format
a closer approximation to undergraduate writing contexts at MIT. By its
year, the pilot had become the default, with 70% of the class taking
The following conclusions can already be made from enrollment data and
from a recent review of the FEE by the Committee on the Writing
- Based on their performance on the FEE, students with significant
in writing are complying with the requirement to take an expository
class during their first year at MIT. Of the 208 entering students
the score of Subject Required on the Freshman Essay
200 have either already taken one of the expository writing subjects in
the Fall 1999 term or have preregistered for one for Spring 2000.
- Information about the revised requirement can be communicated clearly
and concisely to advisors and students.
- The Online Freshman Essay Evaluation represents a
significant improvement over the paper-and-pencil test of past years,
the procedures and administration of the test are essentially sound.
summary of the recent review of the Online Freshman Essay Evaluation by
the Committee on the Writing Requirement is contained in Appendix
Although it is too early to assess the overall educational benefits of
weak writers to take an expository writing subject during their first year
at MIT, these findings provide positive and encouraging preliminary data.
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