DUE’s Strategic Themes: Catalyze the Undergraduate Commons to Define the Next Generation of MIT Student

By Elizabeth Reed, Senior Associate Dean

The Task Force theme is inseparable from DUE’s central mission of improving the undergraduate educational experience at MIT. Diana Henderson, Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support, leads this theme.

To summarize the context: “In response to globalization, advances in science and technology as well as the changes in the preparation and learning style of incoming students, the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educations Commons called for the transformation of the MIT curriculum into a curriculum for the 21st century, in its report released in October 2006. It was recommended that this transformation include increased flexibility in the core requirements, definition of a new core SME requirement and HASS first year experience, as well as promotion of collaborative learning and improving advising, assessment and other key aspects of undergraduate education.”

With Diana’s dynamic leadership and with faculty and staff working hard on many fronts, there has been considerable progress since Daniel Hastings wrote about the Task Force in the March newsletter. DUE is supporting numerous educational experiments focused on project-based learning and HASS subjects, partly with d’Arbeloff and Alumni Funds which the Office of Faculty Support administers. The Teaching and Learning Lab and Office of Faculty Support have been involved with assessing the first-year experimental subjects which the Task Force encouraged as a way to increase freshman motivation and enthusiasm, as well as a way to introduce more active learning in the first year.

DUE is working to provide faculty-related infrastructure to support the new General Institute Requirements (GIRs), including advising materials, a communications strategy and a functional on-line subject evaluation. Staff from the Office of Faculty Support, the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology, and Information Services & Technology are developing this new system for Institute-wide use. It will be piloted in four departments in May. Details available at http://web.mit.edu/se-project.

DUE is supporting several faculty committees charged with helping to implement changes recommended by the Task Force. In October 2007, a new subcommittee of the CUP (Committee on the Undergraduate Program) was formed to review feedback on Task Force recommendations released in October 2006, refine and modify them and recommend more specific changes to the curriculum. The subcommittee has made good progress through January 2008 in formulating a modified model for the General Institute Requirements. As the model becomes more concrete, there will be many discussions with the community and stakeholders. Robert Redwine, committee co-chair, anticipates that specific recommendations for CUP will be available by the end of the spring semester.

The Task Force report includes recommendations for improving the quality of classrooms, the mix of classrooms types and class scheduling. Dan Hastings appointed Professor John Brisson to lead a committee which will advise on this aspect of the report.

This theme also encompasses the Task Force’s strong mandate for international education. The report urges that we encourage undergraduates to live and work abroad as an essential feature of an MIT undergraduate education and that they be able to do so without financial or academic penalty. GEOMIT, a committee created by the DUE to recommend a strategy for achieving Institute goals for global education, released its report last fall. Many DUE offices are instrumental in realizing MIT’s vision for internationalizing the undergraduate experience, most notably the MIT Careers Office, whose Study Abroad and Distinguished Fellowships Office will be a “hub” of expanded efforts.

Expect updates on many initiatives related to the Task Force theme in the months and years ahead!