MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVII No. 1
September / October 2014
East Campus Development Plans
Vote for FNL Editorial Board Members
How the Retirement Transition
Could Be Made Easier at MIT
Getting to Kendall Gateway Through the
East Campus Planning Process
Issues for the Fall Term
Charles "Chuck" Marstiller Vest
9 September 1941 – 12 December 2013
Professor of Computer Science Seth Teller
Redesigning Hayden Library and the
Future of Library Spaces at MIT
HEX Subjects: One Pathway
Into the HASS Requirement
Improving Graduate Student
Financial Literacy
Can We Make Smart = Nice?
Request for Preliminary Proposals for
Innovative Curricular Projects
Nominate a Colleague
as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
from the Survey of Incoming Freshmen
Printable Version

HEX Subjects: One Pathway
into the HASS Requirement

Diana Henderson

The pilot phase of the HASS Exploration (HEX) Program has now concluded and the Program has moved to a steady state, with these subjects being recommended to all undergraduates. HEX subjects approach topics from different disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, have no prerequisites, and are taught collaboratively by MIT faculty – providing a valuable opportunity especially for our first-year students, so that they get to know faculty members at the start of their MIT careers. The Subcommittee on the HASS Requirement (SHR) advocated that the HEX Program be recommended to all undergraduates as one important pathway into the humanities, arts, and social sciences curriculum at MIT, stating in its Report on the HASS Exploration (HEX) Program:

“. . . the HEX subjects developed to date have tremendous potential to introduce our students to the rigorous and passionate study of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at MIT. While these subjects are not the only pathways into hass disciplines, their emphasis on interdisciplinarity and faculty-student contact in small group settings make them a welcome complement to the already vibrant, discipline-based, introductory subjects in our undergraduate curriculum.”

The Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) publicly endorsed SHR’s recommendation at the May 2014 Institute Faculty Meeting. As a result, the Dean of Undergraduate Education (through the Office of Faculty Support within the DUE) is looking to bolster the roster of HEX subjects by providing support and funds to faculty interested in designing or sustaining a HEX subject to be offered in Academic Year 2016. Please do consider taking this opportunity to team with colleagues within or beyond your academic unit to develop an innovative subject that could enrich our students’ experience of their HASS coursework. To join the HEX Program a subject should adhere to the following definition:

HEX subjects are team-taught classes that explore a major concept or topic from multiple viewpoints found across or within disciplines in the humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS). By showcasing the generative value of dialogue and debate among diverse disciplines, specialties, theoretical frameworks, or methodologies, HEX subjects allow students to approach a given problem, phenomenon, or topic from multiple vantage points. Emphasizing close interaction with faculty, the courses encourage the development of foundational skills such as critical reading and analysis of primary materials. More broadly, they provide a pathway into modes of thinking that are central to the HASS curriculum and offer students an opportunity to explore concepts, topics, and histories that are crucial to understanding and inhabiting the complex world in which we live.

HEX subjects are open to undergraduates of all years. Class sizes vary but student enrollment should not exceed 25 students per instructor.

Brief History of HEX

The idea of a HEX Program originated as a recommendation from the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons (2006) to create an experimental set of interdisciplinarity foundational subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences and, in part, create a common discussion among first-year students. Funding from the SHASS Dean’s Office and d’Arbeloff Funds for Excellence in Education enabled the design and continuation of these pedagogically innovative subjects. In 2009, the CUP charged SHR with evaluating and defining these experimental subjects (originally termed First Year Focus) and recommending whether they should become a required permanent part of the HASS Requirement. SHR instead favored recommending them as complementary additions to other routes into the HASS Requirement.

Over the five years of assessment, the HEX subjects’ definition evolved as SHR emphasized the importance of providing more opportunities for faculty-student interactions within foundational subjects and recognized the value of team-teaching when approaching topics from multiple perspectives across or within disciplines.

Because HEX subjects can be resource intensive and challenging to design and sustain, SHR endorsed a support structure for faculty who wish to participate; the Office of Faculty Support stands ready to aid in such efforts.

How to Participate

Please contact Diana Henderson for more information. The staff within the Office of Faculty Support (OFS) can answer questions, provide logistical support for interested faculty, and help find teaching partners. Funding is available through the Alex and Brit d’Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education (proposals due October 1, 2014) to create new subjects for Academic Year 2016.

The current HEX Program roster is available on the HASS Requirement Website. Some potential HEX topics suggested by faculty that may be of interest include:

Chaos / The City / Creativity / Democracy / Social Protest / Science and Religion / Crime and Punishment / Modernity

These are just a few possibilities: we look to our creative faculty and students to find the topics and approaches that will further ignite a passion for learning within the HEX Program.

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