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Town meeting planned on undergrad commons

Professor Robert Silbey, chair of the Task Force on Undergraduate Educational Commons, will share a number of the likely recommendations of the task force with the MIT community during a town meeting on Wednesday, May 10, from 3 to 5 p.m. in Room 32-123.

At this meeting and others being held this month, Silbey and other members of the task force are seeking feedback from faculty and students prior to the preparation of their final report.

A little more than two years ago, the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons began a review of the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) and other aspects of the common undergraduate experience with a view to recommending changes to improve and strengthen the undergraduate experience.

In April, Silbey presented the major recommendations to the Academic Council. Silbey also met recently with undergraduate faculty officers in two meetings "specially designed to get reaction from the faculty most responsible for their department's curriculum," according to Peggy Enders, senior associate dean for undergraduate education and executive officer of the task force.

On May 10, Silbey and other task force members will present their likely recommendations at both the department heads' lunch and at the town meeting. The task force plans to submit its final report to President Susan Hockfield and to the faculty early in the fall.

Currently all undergraduates are required to take six science core subjects -- two each in physics and calculus, one in chemistry and one in modern molecular biology. Students are also required to satisfy a laboratory requirement, take two additional subjects in science, mathematics or technology, and take at least eight subjects in the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS).

In addition, a four-subject communication requirement is satisfied through specific subjects in HASS and in the major.

Although the current system is "basically sound" according to Silbey's recent presentations to the faculty undergraduate officers, its content "can be broadened."��The recommended new structure for the GIRs will include subjects in computation and engineering, as well as freshman year project-based subjects in engineering, science and/or design.

A new structure for the humanities, arts and social sciences requirements that features a more common experience for first-year students will be proposed.

Other aspects of the forthcoming report that will be discussed at the May 10 town meeting include recommendations to improve undergraduate advising and mentoring; to increase the numbers of undergraduates who have an international experience during their four years at MIT; and to improve the teaching and learning of MIT's undergraduates.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 10, 2006 (download PDF).

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