Stepping Out with a New Undergraduate Curriculum

Geroge C. Verghese

EECS Education Officer
Fall 2007

Background

Curricular structures define degree programs. But they also have a more organic effect on the life and rhythms of a department, providing the framework for the plans and activities of students, faculty and staff during the academic year, and from one year to the next. No surprise, then, that departments only infrequently undertake major curricular examination and change. Instead, attention centers on evolving individual subjects, sometimes introducing new subjects or retiring older ones, but within a specified curriculum.

Professors Pete Szolovits and Charlie Sodini ponder the robot control assignment they have been given, during an overview version of 6.01 tailored to EECS faculty in August 2007.

Professors Pete Szolovits and Charlie Sodini ponder the robot control assignment they have been given, during an overview version of 6.01 tailored to EECS faculty in August 2007.

An innovative undergraduate curriculum to suit the then-young Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science was in place by 1979, four years after the department was renamed to recognize the burgeoning of its computer science activities. The defining feature of that curriculum was the Common Core that all students had to take: 6.001 (structure and interpretation of computer programs), 6.002 (circuits and electronics), 6.003 (signals and systems) and 6.004 (computation structures). Each was 15 units (rather than the standard 12 units of most other subjects), and each was seen as primarily EE or CS (though 6.004 perhaps straddled the two, as an electrical and computer engineering subject). Thus, in a sense, our students were EECS by virtue of having done equal parts EE and CS in the Core, building a common foundation for broad exploration in the department beyond that.

The next major curricular change, spearheaded by former Department Head Paul Penfield and in place by 1994, involved the development of the 5-year MEng program, with an SB earned along the way. This change left the Common Core intact, but sharpened the structure beyond that, installing a set of Header and Concentration subjects that allowed students to define a concentration at the undergraduate level, or a major and two minor concentrations for the MEng. The SB degree came in three versions, 6-1 for Electrical Engineering and Science, 6-2 for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and 6-3 for Computer Science and Engineering.

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