It's a Small Class After All

Gov 10 has been a rite of passage for years--but for the class of 2004, it will be history.

Following a curriculum reform approved last spring, the course, formally titled Government 10, "Introduction to Political Thought," will no longer be required of department concentrators starting with the current first-year class.

Now, gov students must take a small tutorial for all of sophomore year, instead of the mythical 100 person-plus Gov 10 lecture.

It's all part of an effort to make Faculty members more accessible to students.

This fall, the Faculty has been discussing expanding the tutorial program.

But in departments, Faculty interaction has always started with the tutorial.

So it's no wonder that several departments have been taking a new look at their tutorial programs--and looking at other concentrations for tutorial models.

The Gov Example

J. Russell Muirhead '88, head tutor of the government department, says the changes are intended to use the small group form to make certain that all concentrators have a strong grasp of fundamentals in the field.

"We want to achieve the same things intellectually [as in the old program], but in a more intense and more enjoyable way," Muirhead says.

According to Muirhead, the changes came in response to concerns about Gov 10 raised by students through the departmental Undergraduate Advisory Council.

"Sophomore Tutorial has been a very successful course over the years," Muirhead says. "And students enjoy the intro. courses less, so we thought: why not get rid of the requirement?"

Government concentrator Erica L. Westenberg '02 says she hopes that changes will allow the tutorial to expand its focus beyond American democracy.

"I think that this is a really important step," Westenberg says. "It will be more beneficial to everyone."

A Matter of Pride

Though the concentrations vary immensely, most departments boast of their tutorial program's strength--and the quality of Faculty-student interaction that results.

"I think it's the most challenging course we have. It's really the crown jewel of the program," says Stephen M. Kosslyn, head tutor of the Psychology Department.

"The tutorials are what we're all about," says Judith E. Vichniac, director of studies for the committee on Social Studies. "It's within the tutorials that students hone their skills of thinking critically and analytically, writing, and learning about the particular subject matter."

But Vichniac emphasizes that while the tutorial programs are special courses, they also require special effort from the students.

"I think our sophomore and junior tutorial programs are very demanding," Vichniac says, "It's clear whether you're committed or not committed."

History concentrators say that their tutorial program--which requires a minimum of 90 pages in papers during the sophomore year alone--is also extremely challenging.

"You're expected to decipher massive amounts of information in a very short period of time," says Helen L. Gilbert '02. "They really expect you to know what you're talking about."

Christopher L. Foote, director of undergraduate studies for the economics department, says that while his department is proud of its program, the difficulty level is more modest.

"I would think that our tutorial program is about in the middle level of difficulty compared to our other courses," Foote said.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Susan G. Pedersen '82 says that as an undergraduate Social Studies concentrator, the Social Studies 10 sophomore tutorial was particularly memorable for her.

She explains that it shouldn't be surprising that the small tutorial courses are so highly rated by both students and teachers.

"Concentrations by and large are proud of their tutorial programs," Pedersen says. "They see them as a way to attract good and interested students to the department. And they're also fun to teach."

A Little of Everything

While concentrations structure their tutorial programs in a variety of fashions, many say their ultimate goal is simply to introduce students to a way of thinking, rather than a canon of famous works.

The Economics department, for instance, offers tutorials focusing on everything from "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: A Law and Economics Perspective" to "Tax Policy."

"It's to show them that economics is not just about interest rates and GDP, but really a way of thinking about the world--and we think the best way to think about the world," Foote says.

Students are only required to take a one semester tutorial, which they choose from a selection of about 20 offerings.

Tutorials usually have six to eight students, and are taught mostly by graduate students, a majority of whom are not Economics PhDs.

Instead, they often come from the Law School, Kennedy School or Business School.

But despite their divergent interests, Foote says the teachers are ideal.

"The tutorial leaders are uniformly excited about the chance to introduce economics," Foote says. "I have been very pleased."

Jonathan R. Lavy '01, who took a tutorial on international trade, says his experience was a good one.

"The tutorial gave us the chance to think about the theory more than the problem-solving aspect of economics," Lavy says. "For me, it was a breath of fresh air."

While Women's Studies takes a different approach, its program also covers a wide array of material.

Juliet B. Schor, director of studies for the department, says that unlike economics, the sophomore tutorial exposes all students to the same seminal ideas, rather than simply illustrating how the field might be applied.

"It's knowledge-based in the sense that it is a foundational course in some of the major texts in women's studies and feminist thought," Schor says. "There's kind of a great works aspect to it."

While the present sophomore tutorial was designed only three years ago, Schor says the response has been good thus far.

"I've asked, 'how's it going?' more informally." Schor says, "People have been very positive about the sophomore tutorial."

The junior tutorial, which is a one-on-one course in the small concentration, also gets good reviews, though it has not been revised recently.

"Our junior tutorial is a one-on-one, so basically I work with students to define topics, find a tutor," Schor says.

"They meet with students weekly, and then there's a substantial essay that [students] write. That works very well, and it's a nice segue into the thesis."

Something Well

Other concentrations, such as history and psychology, use their tutorials to teach specific skills that help students become practitioners of their field.

For the history department, a year-long mandatory sophomore tutorial program focuses on ways of writing history, while the junior tutorial program, for honors concentrators, teaches research skills.

Lizabeth C. Cohen, head tutor for the history department, says the tutorials are a good introduction to what historians do.

"We emphasize skill and method," Cohen says. "In general we expect that students are getting their content through other required courses."

Pedersen, who also teaches in the history department, says that the tutorial program there was one of those completely revamped in the last ten years.

Under a committee chaired by Baird Professor of History Mark A. Kishlansky, the program was redesigned to help students practice history--of particular help to students considering whether to write a thesis.

According to Pedersen, the change in quality has been noticeable.

"Thinking of my own students, I think the theses have gotten better," she says.

Cohen agrees.

"It's impressive that when they sit down to write a thesis, they actually know what they're doing," she says.

The psychology department, like history, revamped its tutorial program about a decade ago.

Its program consists of just a single-term sophomore tutorial designed to introduce students to the field's method of analysis.

"When somebody gets out of the tutorial here, they really can understand psychological phenomena," says head tutor Kosslyn.

While the old program covered material that was mostly unrelated to the department's course offerings, Kosslyn emphasizes that the current tutorial teaches skills students can use in their departmental work.

The psychology program is also unique in that students are assigned to tutorials in their Houses.

Kosslyn says that the tutors are usually formal affiliates of the houses they teach in and get to know their students well.

"Now we've taken advantage of the House-based program to bring tutors into the advising process," Kosslyn says.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 says that the kind of faculty interaction tutorials foster leads to ideal advising opportunities.

"Advising is best when it springs from some natural intellectual relationship between advisor and student, and tutorials form the most natural framework," writes Lewis in an e-mail message. "Faculty who lead tutorials serve as advisers to their students, whether they bear such a formal title or not, so strengthened tutorial programs result in improved advising as well."

Quality Time

Kosslyn says that students develop a strong relationship with their tutors in the psychology department.

"They're given enormous tender, loving care by the program," Kosslyn says.

But concentrations like Women's Studies and History and Literature go even further by offering junior tutorials that place a student one-on-one with a tutor.

Steven H. Biel, director of studies for the committee on History and Literature, says the tutorial program--where students are paired with a tutor who shares their interests-- offers its students an invaluable experience.

Since, like Social Studies, the tutorials are the only courses offered by the concentration, Biel says both the tutors and students are dedicated to them.

"It's a very intimate teaching and learning experience," Biel says, "There's no place to hide. You are never distracted by anyone else's agenda. It can be extremely exciting."

Still To Come...

More changes are in the works.

Foote says that economics, for instance, will be rating its courses on the degree of math required, according to a one-to-three scale. The rating will not appear on transcripts, but is intended to help concentrators select the right course for them.

Schor says that Women's Studies will likely conduct a formal review of its program next year to see how the recent changes have worked.

Kosslyn says psychology would love to mount a junior tutorial program, but has resource issues to work through first.

Knowles says that the changes of the last ten years, as a whole, are excellent progress towards the Faculty's goal of increasing small-group instruction.

And he says there is more to come.

"What you are seeing is the consequence of regular curricular review, carried out in the light of goals that the faculty has carefully considered, that appreciate the value of instruction in smaller groups," Knowles says. "I'm not, of course, against large and inspiring lecture courses such as 'Justice' or 'First Nights,' but I believe that these should be mixed with teaching in smaller settings."