Ten Years of Communication Instruction at MIT

By Kathleen MacArthur, Assistant Dean for the Communication Requirement, Office of Faculty Support

The Fall 2011 term will mark ten years since the first entering class was subject to the Communication Requirement (CR). In celebration of this anniversary and as a part of the MIT150 events, the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement (SOCR) sponsored “Innovations in Communication Instruction: Lessons from Ten Years of the Communication Requirement” on April 27. Professor Diana Henderson, OFS Director and Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support, moderated this well-attended event.

What is the Communication Requirement?
The CR requires that students complete at least one communication intensive (CI) subject in each year of undergraduate study in order to ensure that their communication training is distributed.

  • CI-H subjects: Two of the required subjects are chosen from a group of designated subjects offered in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences curriculum. CI-H subjects provide a foundation in effective writing and oral communication.
  • CI-M subjects: The other two required CI subjects are taken in the student’s major department. These subjects, designated as Communication Intensive in the Major, teach the specific forms of communication common to the field's professional and academic culture.

As a result of this structure, a wide spectrum of communication-intensive subjects is offered across all five Schools throughout the Institute. Currently, there are approximately 152 CI-H subjects and 148 CI M subjects spanning a diverse range of topics and formats.

Sharing Best Practices
In an effort to collect and share best practices in communication instruction, SOCR invited several CI H and CI-M instructors to discuss the successes and challenges of teaching CI subjects at MIT. Professors Sandy Alexander and David Jones discussed their CI-H subjects, while Professors David Wallace and Haynes Miller, in collaboration with Susan Ruff, a Lecturer from Writing Across the Curriculum, described their CI-M subjects. Also joining the conversation was Naomi Stein ‘10—a former SOCR member, recent graduate of MIT, and current graduate student—to reflect on her experience with the CR. The session concluded with a lively panel discussion.

SOCR has long sought to develop a “Best Practices Inventory” for teaching CI subjects, and to share this collection with the MIT community. The Subcommittee hopes such a study will inform the design of new CI subjects, offer the potential to improve existing ones, and promote conversation among faculty members teaching CI subjects. This event presented SOCR with many ideas for moving forward with this project. The Subcommittee hopes this will be the first of events to come.

Video of the event is available through the CR website