From The Students
Kindling the Fire: Student Perspectives on the
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In general, students are more engaged in subjects they choose to take, and frustrated by requirements preventing them from taking the classes they want. This precept can be critically applied to three of the Task Force recommendations.
1) The “Mathematics” box in the revised Science, Math, and Engineering Core
The Task Force itself concedes that almost all students already take a third math class through requirements in their major. Why require what is already required? The proposed "mathematics" box is unnecessary and unduly confining. Since most departmental programs already require an additional mathematics course, the additional Institute requirement would only affect a small number of students, most of whom would take a math course anyway (e.g., 14.30, Statistics) that may not qualify for GIR status within the proposal.
2) First Year HASS Experience
If the goal of the first semester HASS experience is to engage students and excite them about future courses, the best way to accomplish that is to allow students more choice in the selection of that first course. Limiting options to a few, lottery-filled subjects deemed exciting by faculty will alienate students interested in other areas, and frustrate those who would prefer a different kind of learning experience. Students would be excited about new HASS classes that tackle complex issues taught by enthusiastic faculty, but only if the students take these classes because they chose them.
3) Pacing Requirement for the HASS Foundational Electives
In our discussions with fellow students, we found the HASS-D requirement to be among the most frustrating at the Institute. Students generally felt the designation of HASS-D to be arbitrary and the categories strange (challenge: find a student who can name all five). The proposed merging of HASS-D and CI-H into Foundational Electives should unburden and therefore enrich HASS education.
Requiring the completion of these Foundational Electives by the end of the second year, however, will frustrate students who would rather take their classes in a different order. Many students would rather embark on their concentrations earlier.
Students with strong backgrounds in HASS often find they are not challenged at MIT until they can take more advanced coursework. The proposed pacing requirement would also make the HASS classroom less varied in terms of student age and experience, a diversity students value. Finally, the pacing requirement would hurt students who intend to study abroad, as completing two Foundational Electives and the First Year Experience in the first four semesters would make significant study of a foreign language extremely difficult before junior year.
The current advising system could be greatly improved by encouraging more meaningful student-advisor interaction. Because each meeting is focused on the upcoming semester, less emphasis is placed on students’ overall plan. Midterm meetings would allow more discussion of the long term, and would connect students with their advisors when students are struggling the most. We would like to see advising made a part of the tenure and promotion process, much as teaching is, and we would like suggestions about how to be better advisees.
We value the intellectual energy and intensity of an MIT undergraduate education. The Task Force strove for a Commons that “ignite a persistent passion for learning,” and we believe this to be the most important goal. However, we would like to recall the words of former MIT President Jerome Wiesner, that “getting an MIT education is like taking a drink from a fire hose.” If indeed, in the words of Yeats, “education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire,” we must be careful that the experience of the Commons does not inadvertently extinguish the very flame we are trying to fuel.
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