An Update on the Educational Commons Subcommittee
The Educational Commons Subcommittee (ECS) is a group of faculty appointed by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) to extend and refine the work discussed in the Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons. ECS Membership includes: Robert Redwine (Physics), co-chair, Charles Stewart (Political Science), co-chair, John Fernandez (Architecture), Tomas Lozano-Perez (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Dava Newman (Aeronautics and Astronautics, Engineering Systems Division), Shreyes Seshasai (student, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), JoAnne Yates (Management), Dennis Freeman (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), ex-officio (CUP), Diana Henderson (Literature),
We understood our charge to be one essentially of reviewing and refining, with the ultimate goal of proposing to the faculty, a set of concrete changes to the general MIT undergraduate curriculum.
Our foundation was the final Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons, including the background deliberations and research that went into writing that report. The Task Force engaged in a comprehensive review of the undergraduate educational experience at MIT that extended over two-and-a-half years, and we felt no need to re-do the Task Force’s work.
The final report of the Task Force covered a range of topics. Some of these are presently being attended to outside of our deliberations, including: global education, classrooms and scheduling, advising and mentoring, diversity, and change to double majors from double degrees. [See “Moving from Two Degrees to Double Majors,” in this issue of the Newsletter.]
While the charge of this Subcommittee is to recommend changes to MIT’s policies and regulations concerning undergraduate education using the Task Force Report as its starting point, we have focused our efforts, and thus the substance of our work, on the Science, Math, and Engineering Requirement; the HASS Requirement; and faculty governance issues related to the GIRs.
The release of the Task Force report engendered a lively reaction from the MIT community, expressed in many settings, including Institute faculty meetings, a special edition of the Faculty Newsletter in February 2007, and ad hoc meetings with departments, faculty committees, and other interested parties. This feedback has greatly influenced our work, and we commented explicitly on it in our Interim Report (May, 2008). In addition, we met anew with many of the same groups that gave initial input to the Task Force and that provided feedback after its report was issued. The response to the Task Force’s final report demonstrated that further work was needed to reconcile the structure of the GIRs with the dynamic challenges facing undergraduate education at MIT. The most important of these outstanding issues may be summarized with the following questions:
We devoted most of our attention to these questions over the past nine months in weekly meetings and over the summer in working groups that included broader faculty participation. We developed several goals for the revised GIRs. Because many individuals expressed concerns about losing material currently in the GIRs, preserving a common core of material that departments can count on became a primary focus during our discussions about curricular change. At the same time, we wanted to provide opportunities and mechanisms for evolution of content and innovative teaching and learning. We considered the student perspective, particularly in their first year, trying to give students a more active role in their education by providing some freedom to explore personal interests and some flexibility in their choices about subjects.
These deliberations led us to focus on the following set of recommendations, which are detailed in the Interim Report: