The What, Who, and How of DUE: The Office of Faculty Support (OFS)
What does it mean to be the Office of Faculty Support?
As the steward of the undergraduate curriculum at MIT, the Faculty is responsible for oversight and innovation in the curriculum. When you consider that this encompasses the General Institute Requirements, majors, minors, and all other aspects of the curriculum such as transfer credits and grading policies, this is no small feat. Here is where the Office of Faculty Support (OFS) comes in. As a key partner, OFS supports the Faculty in the ongoing coordination and enhancement of the undergraduate curriculum, and in advocacy for effective educational infrastructure and resources.
How Does OFS Help Advance the Undergraduate Curriculum?
Facilitating Faculty Governance
OFS acts as staff to the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) and its two standing subcommittees — the Subcommittee on the hass Requirement (SHR) and the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement (SOCR). The CUP has oversight for the undergraduate academic program including the freshman year and the General Institute Requirements. In the role of staff, OFS distills information and identifies the critical questions and issues that need to be addressed by committee members. At the same time, the staff maintains records of committee discussions and actions that inform future decisions. As membership of the CUP committees turn over, OFS staffing ensures intellectual and institutional continuity and coherence.
The committee staff shepherds curricular proposals as they evolve and are reviewed by all relevant committees. This iterative process often requires OFS to develop reports and presentations and to draft legislation that is used by the committees, committee chairs, senior administration, and Institute Faculty The complexity and scope of this effort can be appreciated when considering that the recently approved 16-ENG flexible engineering degree in AeroAstro required the involvement of the AeroAstro Department, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, the Committee on the Curricula, the Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement, the Faculty Policy Committee, and the MIT Faculty as a whole.
In many cases, OFS is also involved in the implementation of policy changes. In 2009, following the Faculty’s approval of a revised Distribution Component to the HASS Requirement, OFS led a project team, with membership from IS&T, the Registrar’s Office, UAAP, and others, in the successful launch of the revised requirement for all incoming freshmen in Fall 2010.
Much of the OFS committee work occurs behind the scenes. As Anna Frazer, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support in OFS explained, “In a way, the work of OFS committee staff is largely invisible. If the staff is working well, one of the outward signs is that the committee is accomplishing a lot of business.”
Advising Students on the HASS and Communication Requirements
In support of two essential components of the General Institute Requirements, OFS has the role of staff to both the CUP Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement (SOCR) and the CUP Subcommittee on the HASS Requirement (SHR) and provides a single point of advising for both Requirements. Since many of the courses students take satisfy aspects of both Requirements, it is very helpful to have an advisor who can ensure students who have questions or concerns about either Requirement are on target with both. At the same time, OFS is actively engaged in sending out reminders to keep students on track and addressing the ramifications for those who are not.
OFS’s direct interaction with students who have questions or issues related to the Communication Requirement and HASS Requirement provides a strong feedback loop to SOCR and SHR. This firsthand information helps the subcommittees stay plugged into the student experience and gain insight when reviewing student petitions or contemplating future policies.
Collecting Data to Support Faculty/Departmental Decisions
In order to provide insight to departments, schools, faculty committees, and administrative offices considering curricular questions and policies, OFS recently updated the Who’s Teaching What (WTW) application and launched online subject evaluations. Through Who’s Teaching What, departments can enter and review current and historical information on who is teaching what subject and section within the subject, and who is enrolled in each section. This is linked to online subject evaluations in which students provide feedback on their learning experience within that particular subject.
The summary information collected through subject evaluations is available to everyone in the MIT community while instructors, department heads, and academic administrators can also access student comments. This provides useful feedback and a measure of accountability about teaching and learning at the Institute. Students use this information to make curricular choices; instructors use the information to affirm or adjust their teaching methods; and departments consider the information when making decisions about promotions and teaching assignments. Moreover, the data collected provides valuable insights about what is working for students and what they would like to experience in the classroom. For example, in considering future recommendations, the MIT Council on Education Technology was able to gain critical information on what students were saying about the use of educational technology in the classroom.
Fostering Curriculum Innovation
When describing the work of OFS, Professor Diana Henderson, OFS Director and Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support, explained that the office works with the Faculty to “maintain excellence in an enduring MIT undergraduate education and make room for innovation.” Curriculum Innovation is central to OFS’s work. Through the administration and distribution of both the d’Arbeloff Grants for Excellence in Education and the Alumni Class Funds, OFS helps drive innovation and experimentation in areas such as project-based learning and design subjects, interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary offerings, and HASS First Year Focus subjects. OFS is often involved in the assessment of these innovations to understand the impact on learning and consider how successful strategies could be applied elsewhere in the curriculum.
The d’Arbeloff Grants for Excellence in Education are targeted at innovative opportunities that affect large number of students over time or subjects that transcend specific departmental curricula. The focus continues to evolve as new opportunities are identified. For example, this year the call for proposals added “hybrid learning,” mixing digital tools and residentially based instruction, to the list of possibilities that could inspire innovative curricular approaches.
The Alumni Class Funds are focused on initiatives that improve the quality of education at MIT with an emphasis on projects that directly impact students. The contributing classes of 1951, 1955, 1972, and 1999 are directly involved in the selection process, which provides seed money for innovation.
Beyond the funds, OFS supports the efforts of the CUP in licensing educational experiments and, in an ongoing effort, collaborates with Teaching and Learning Laboratory and the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology as part of a larger initiative to promote educational innovation at MIT.
Linking the Faculty and the Administration to Address Cross-Cutting Issues
OFS acts as a bridge around emerging issues and ideas related to the curriculum. On the one hand, OFS has developed a strong relationship with departments and faculty committee members and is committed to understanding faculty needs and perspectives. On the other hand, OFS has developed a collaborative relationship with the senior administration and DUE offices and is committed to supporting their efforts and moving their vision forward. With this unique position, OFS is sensitive to the implications for all stakeholders of what are often complex curricular issues or proposals. As such, OFS is able to provide context and advice to all stakeholders and foster the understanding and support necessary to evolve the curriculum.
Some of the initiatives about which OFS is currently engaged in gathering feedback and providing input include:
- Planning for online registration, including potential improvements for enrollment management
- Educational implications of the increased undergraduate class size
- Policies regarding GIR transfer credits
- Additional flexible degree programs
Who Works in the Office of Faculty Support?
Diana Henderson, Director and Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support
Deborah Boldin, Administrative Assistant
Matthew Davies, Administrative Assistant
Jason Donath, Staff Associate
Mary Enterline, Associate Dean
Patricia Fernandes, Advisor, Communication and HASS Requirements
Genevre Filiault, Staff Associate
Anna Frazer, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support
Kathleen MacArthur, Assistant Dean for the Communication Requirement
Lauren Reemsnyder, Administrative Assistant
Rosanne Santucci, Communications and Data Specialist