When the U.S. News and World Report released its annual ranking of colleges and universities last week, I was both surprised and pleased to learn that Tech had improved its standing in a variety of disciplines. The fact that the Institute was able to do so during tough economic times is a testament to the leadership and foresight of both current and former members of the campus community who have worked to achieve these results. While rankings are not the most accurate measure of the quality of education or campus experience at an institution, they are meaningful not only to students frantically seeking employment upon graduation this semester but also to talented students who are considering attending this institution.
However, I still can’t help but feel that there is a lot more work to be done to make Tech a better place for innovation and the exchange of ideas. There are many avenues for improvement, and there are many tough challenges that require creative solutions if the Institute hopes to matriculate not only citizens who are capable of securing well-paying jobs or careers but also those who are truly capable of changing the world.
There are two main problems that I believe Tech must tackle to help achieve this goal: improving the quality of teaching and increasing the interdisciplinary nature of education.
I’ve been fascinated with the problem of how to improve the quality of teaching for quite some time. It’s an incredibly challenging problem to solve, not least because the student-faculty ratio has been on the rise for several years due to budgetary constraints.
The fact of the matter is that the current system for imparting information and conducting evaluations is broken.
How many times have you walked out of a classroom with a less than satisfactory grade (even when it was curved to an A), and been forced to move on the next unit, even though you clearly (as your grade indicated) didn’t have a firm grasp of the concepts presented in previous chapters? Why did you get such a poor grade in the first place?
Studies show that most students have difficulty retaining information during lectures after about 15 minutes. Imagine if instead of working problems for homework, students were asked to watch video lectures at home on their own pace before coming to class. Students could pause, rewind and watch the lectures as many times as they needed in order to gain a firm grasp of the concepts.
Students could then spend time in class working on problems with one another in groups. Tests would be conducted periodically to measure the progress of each student. However, when a student does poorly on a test, he would have the opportunity to spend more time on the material to gain a firm understanding and take another evaluation before moving onto the next topic. By implementing this model, a student could ensure that he builds upon the information learned in one chapter or course in another.
What I’m suggesting here is not at all a new approach to improving the quality of teaching. There has been a push in recent years from innovative educators and organizations to adopt this model in K-12 schools. An institution like Tech should employ its resources to try such radical ideas and help solve this problem.
Another challenge that Tech must tackle is increasing the interdisciplinary opportunities on campus. There have been countless efforts on this front, which in recent years have culminated in the construction of the CULC. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, I’m a bit skeptical at the effectiveness of these initiatives at directly addressing the problem.
The CULC is intended to be a center for learning where primarily first- and second-year students interact with one another and work together to come up with new ideas. I believe that it would make more sense for the building to house upper level courses, where students are actively engaged in major-level topics.
Lastly, I’m a firm believer in the notion that a stronger liberal arts college should be well-equipped to complement any great engineering school. The problems of the future will be located at the intersection of science and the liberal arts. Giving students more opportunities to experience the liberal arts via the Ivan Allen College will ultimately make them better equipped to solve tomorrow’s challenges.