MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVIII No. 5
May / June 2006
Meritocracy and a Diverse Faculty
A Brief History and Workings
of the MIT Corporation
Committees of the Faculty:
An End-of-Year Recap
Lippard and Sharp Awarded
National Medal of Science
Energy Research Council and Forum:
A Major New Institute Initiative
Efficient Use of Energy:
Part of MIT's New Energy Initiative
Fueling Our Transportation Future
Lighting a Fire in MIT's
Undergradute Education
Some Thoughts on the Arts
Reflections on the "Visualizing Cultures" Incident
On the "Visualizing Cultures" Controversy and its Implications
Communication Requirement
Evaluation Process Begins
A Modest Proposal:
A Dental Insurance Plan for All Students
New Resource on Faculty Website:
"Current Practices"
"Soft Skills" to Help Avoid the "Hard Knocks"
Computer Space Planning for MIT
Tops IT-SPARCC's Priority List
Seniors Report Increased Satisfaction
with Faculty Interaction
Smart Buy Purchasing Initiative
Primary Form of Support
for Doctoral Students
Printable Version

Communication Requirement Evaluation
Process Begins

Suzanne Flynn

This spring, MIT launched Phase One of a three-part, 18-month program evaluation of the undergraduate Communication Requirement (CR). As you will recall, the CR was established by a vote of the faculty in May 2000. At that time, the faculty Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement (SOCR), which is responsible for CR oversight, was charged with assessing the overall effectiveness of the requirement.

As a brief background summary, the CR currently consists of four Communication Intensive (CI) classes sequenced throughout a student’s undergraduate career. Every student takes two CI subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences (CI-H) and two CI subjects within his or her major degree program (CI-M). CI subjects are designed to teach written and oral communication skills within the context of disciplinary material and in conjunction with the teaching of general and technical skills. The implementation of this requirement began with the Class of 2005.

Given that we have completed one full cycle of the CR, we are now in a position to begin an initial assessment of the requirement, as well as put in place those mechanisms that will allow for its ongoing evaluation.

For the three-phased evaluation process we are now embarking upon, we have several general goals:

  • We seek to determine what the CR experiences of our undergraduates are as there is considerable flexibility – especially at the CI-H level – in terms of which classes a student may choose. In addition, we know that many students take more than the minimum four CI classes during their undergraduate career.
  • We want to understand what the impact of these CR experiences is on students’ abilities to write and speak, and we will seek this information from both the students’ and faculty’s perspectives.
  • We want to know how effective the implementation of the CR is in terms of curricular integration, acceptance, and sustainability.

    Each of the planned three phases focuses on some aspect of these overarching questions. We also anticipate that the results of each phase of the evaluation will inform subsequent phases and allow us to expand areas of study, deepen the line of questioning, and cross-validate findings.

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    The evaluation process is guided by two general principles: independence and transparency. Independence will be ensured by the participation of a nonpartisan, in-house evaluator, who will coordinate faculty involvement and, when necessary, consultation with outside faculty experts. Conducting an evaluation using an internal evaluator makes certain that the stakeholders are intimately involved with the process and that the assessment addresses the issues and questions the stakeholders deem important at each phase of process. Dr. Rudolph Mitchell of the Teaching and Learning Laboratory has been appointed as the in-house program evaluator for the CR asessment.

At another level, transparency will be maintained through timely reports to the MIT community that profile current evaluation activities and summarize findings.

Phase One of the assessment process is now underway. This phase will provide an overview, focusing on students’ and faculty members’ attitudes and experiences with the CR and identifying new areas for investigation in future phases. Select student and faculty opinions were gathered through interviews and meetings, which began in January. In April and May 2006, all seniors and faculty were asked to participate in online surveys consisting of between 50 and 65 one-line statements that respondents are asked to rate by a seven-point scale. The senior survey seeks to gain an understanding of these students’ attitudes, experiences, impressions, and conclusions about their CI subjects. The faculty survey focuses on faculty beliefs about, and observations and impressions of the Communication Requirement. The faculty survey also solicits views on the impact of the CR and how the CR might be improved. Findings from Phase One will be reported to the MIT community in the fall of 2006.

Scheduled for fall 2006, Phase Two will focus on effects and will involve a more in-depth investigation of the undergraduates’ CI experiences and faculty views on how well the Requirement has been implemented.

Phase Three of the assessment, slated to take place in winter and spring 2007, will focus on the impact of the CR on the overall educational experience of MIT undergraduates and on understanding best practices in its implementation. This phase will include an examination of alumni reflections on how their undergraduate education – specifically the CR – prepared them to communicate in social and professional settings and employers’ perspectives on the ability of recent MIT graduates to effectively communicate in professional contexts.

MIT provides students with an extraordinary education, but success at the Institute and beyond also requires effective communication skills. The cr program evaluation will lead to an understanding of the overall effects of the Requirement on students’ communication skills and help identify specific areas for improvement of methodologies and further integration of the Requirement into the curriculum.  SOCR members would like to thank you, in advance, for your participation in the survey and look forward to sharing the Phase One program assessment survey findings with you this fall. More specific information about the Communication Requirement and lists of subjects that are designated as CI are available on the Website at:

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