MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XIX No. 4
February 2007
The Voice of Students: Student Survey Data on the Task Force Recommendations
Kindling the Fire: Student Perspectives on the Task Force Recommendations
Printable Version

From The Students

The Voice of Students: Student Survey Data on the
Task Force Recommendations

The Student Advisory Committee on the Recommendations of the Task Force

On November 21, 2006, the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) on the Recommendations of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons surveyed the MIT undergraduate community about the Task Force recommendations and sentiments about MIT's General Institute Requirements (GIRs). 745 students responded (18% of the student body), often with lengthy comments. This article presents the results of that survey.

Science, Math, and Engineering Core

Survey data revealed that current undergraduates agree that the present science and math core can be improved, especially in terms of engaging and exciting students, a focus of the Task Force investigation. While 74% of surveyed undergraduates agreed that the SME core should provide a stimulus for student's passion to learn, only 32% agreed that the current requirements provide this stimulus.

When students were asked which of the Task Force's models for the core (commonly referred to as 5/5 and 5/6) was best, current undergraduates very slightly preferred 5/5, but preferred the current requirements over either proposal.

When students were asked which subjects all students should be required to demonstrate proficiency in, the most important, in order, were single variable calculus, multivariable calculus, mechanics, chemistry, life science, electricity and magnetism, computation and algorithmic thinking, and engineering methodology. The Task Force's
suggestion of requiring proficiency in three math subjects was considerably less popular. The average student selected seven areas that students should be required to demonstrate competency in, suggesting a core requiring seven courses, one more than the current requirements, and one less than the Task Force recommended.

Our results suggest that the primary weakness of the current core is neither the set of subjects required nor the ability of students to choose what content they study, but rather the teaching style options available in the core.

60% of students thought that there should be options to core classes augmented with hands-on experiments, in the vein of 8.02X, a recently-retired option for electricity and magnetism. At the same time, written comments were often highly critical that TEAL, the only current core class to emphasize hands-on learning, is the only option for regular 8.01 and 8.02.

Humanities, Arts, and Social Science

The most criticized proposal from the Task Force report was the First Year Experience in HASS (66% opposed, 18% supported). This strong disapproval was consistent with the opinions from both written comments on the survey and town-hall discussions. Concerns included limited ability to prepare for study abroad, limited interaction between students of different years, and decreased choice of HASS classes.

Students reacted slightly positively to the idea of combining the HASS-D and CI-H requirements into the Task Force's Foundational Electives. 42% of undergraduates thought that the current HASS-D distribution requirement was effective, while 38% thought it was not. Clearly, the requirement can improve.

Despite support for Foundational Electives, students strongly opposed making these courses "foundational" in the sense that they should be completed within the first two years (62% opposed, 17% in supported), or be introductory in nature. Common concerns included hardship for students wanting to learn a language and freedom to begin concentrations earlier.

Many students (59%) reported that scheduling conflicts have had a significant impact on their HASS education (only 13% reported having no problem). 26% of students reported that they had scheduling conflicts every semester at MIT and an additional 21% reported that they occur most of the time. Scheduling conflicts are a significant source of frustration.

Choice of Major and Advising

Although 41% of upperclassmen indicated they chose their primary major before arriving at MIT, many students (44%) reported that taking advanced classes helped them decide. Other upperclassmen indicated that their decision was influenced by the GIRs (24%), exploratory classes (19%), and freshman seminars (12%). 19% of students felt they did not have enough time to select their major, and 5% of students said they were not happy with their current major.

Overall, students strongly supported significantly increasing mandatory student-advisor interaction. 56% thought that midterm meetings with advisors should be required (22% opposed). A strong majority (68% for, 7% against) felt that students should be able to choose their own advisor, which is presently possible in only some departments. Associate advising was also supported, with 55% of students agreeing that all first year students should have associate advisors (11% opposed), and 59% of students indicating that departmental associate advisors should be assigned to students new to a major (8% opposed).

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