In a new book, MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman asserts that we need to overcome the Internet’s sorting tendencies and create tools to make ourselves ‘digital cosmopolitans.’
n a first-of-its-kind survey, all MIT sophomores are being asked to evaluate their recently completed freshman experience and tell MIT where improvements are needed, as well as what is working well.
This survey follows a similar effort two years ago in which the senior class (Class of 1994) was asked to reflect on the overall MIT experience. That survey revealed strong concerns about the first-year but lacked detail because of the intervening passage of time. The developers of this study hope it will clarify those issues. The survey will also provide input to ongoing faculty discussions about the quality of the freshman academic experience.
The main focus is on students' academic experiences. The survey includes questions about freshman year subjects, characteristics of favorite subjects, attitudes toward aspects of the first year such as the freshman credit limit and Pass/No Record, freshman advising seminars, attitudes toward the classroom experience, and the extent to which students think they have improved in various types of knowledge and abilities since high school. It also examines nonacademic aspects of undergraduate life that may affect the academic experience such as R/O, living groups, freshman advising and activity participation.
The questionnaire is 10 pages long and includes both structured and open-ended questions. In pilot tests with students the survey took from 20 to 30 minutes to complete.
Students have been given randomly assigned code numbers that are linked to their MIT ID number to permit access to information on Institute databases such as calculus exam advanced placement credit, size of high school, percent of high school students going on to four-year colleges and living group type. The coding assures confidentiality and eliminates the need for demographic survey questions.
A green card enclosed in the survey envelope contains a label with a student's name, address and survey code number. Students are asked to tear off the code number and stick it on the first page of the survey. The data will be reported in the aggregate to Institute committees, departments and offices. A summary of the results will be reported to the students who respond.
To make returning the surveys easier, survey collection boxes have been placed at the front desk of each residence hall. Students living off-campus should return the surveys using interdepartmental mail.
Students are urged to respond to the survey and make their voices heard. The larger the response rate, the greater the impact of the results. Faculty and administrators find surveys to be a useful way to learn about student reactions to the MIT experience, since it gives them a perspective that is far broader than their own individual experiences with students. Questions about the survey can be addressed to
Under the sponsorship of the Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs, the survey was developed by the Educational Studies Working Group (ESWG). ESWG includes administrators from various offices around MIT with an interest in educational research (Admissions, Career Services, Financial Aid and Student Employment, Information Systems, Planning Office, Registrar's Office, Residence and Campus Activities, and Undergraduate Academic Affairs). Faculty who teach freshman subjects and who play an active role in the development of the undergraduate curriculum suggested many survey topics. Focus groups conducted with small groups of students illuminated key areas of concern.
BONUS: Fifteen respondents, selected at random by the Registrar's Office will receive $10 gift certificates from Newbury Comics.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 27, 1995.