14.02 Complaint Letter

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This is an email I sent to Ricardo Caballero, the head of the MIT Course 14 Economics department at the time. This was sent on 5/2/2011 in response to issues in 14.02.


My name is Michael Plasmeier and I am a course 15, 6-2 sophomore. I’m in 14.02 this semester and I was in 14.01 last semester. I wanted to bring the following to your attention:

Over the past 2 semesters I have been noticing issues in the quality of the education in 14.01 and 14.02, particularly concerning the logistics of the class and the knowledge/oversight of the TAs. I have been discussing the issue informally with other students who have all concurred that 14.01 and 14.02 could use serious improvements. I have been thinking of formally documenting these issues, but I have not had the time to dedicate to this issue up to now.

I am in the all-section version of 14.02 so I have never met the professor – I don’t even know what he looks like. The TAs seem disorganized and not fully aware of things going on. The TAs in charge of teaching the section have no clue what is on the P-Set, let alone when it is due. Instead they always refer you to the TA assigned to organization, however I believe that this is not working smoothly. I’ve never met this TA in person ever either. Of the 18 emails I’ve sent her over the semester, I have only received 8 emails in response. Even Prof. Grimson, as department head and 6.01 lecturer, was much better at responding to 6.01 emails! Many of the emails were due to the course staff losing my graded P-Set. I’ve contacted her several times; the majority of the responses I have received were just to look again in the disorganized “pile” of P-Sets in E52.

I had a bad feeling about this class from the beginning– on the first day of class one of the TAs walked in and announced that because “she was on the job market, she would have less time to dedicate to the class.” This might be true, but you just don’t say it! One TA was allergic to chalk – which I understand, but rather than trying to move a room with a whiteboard, she just used a projector. Often the projector would not work for the first 10 minutes of class, leading to a waste of time. Also – learning off a PowerPoint is hard for many students. The TA who taught the other half of the classes was very knowledgeable about the material. When I asked that he teach all of the classes, I was told that this was impossible. Both teaching TAs often ran out of time because the either format of recitation – allowing questions – threw them off or the TAs never planned how much material could be taught in an hour.

There also appeared to be a lack of quality in the exams. The first exam had about 2-3 mistakes, and the second test had 4 mistakes – and those were only the ones discovered during the exam time period. While I understand that mistakes sometimes happen, I feel that this level of mistakes is higher than it needs to be. In addition, because the content of the lectures and all recitation sections were different, sometimes our TA said that material would be on the test the next day had not reviewed in class and there was nothing that could be done. This happened this weekend with the P-Set, but the good TA was able to negotiate an extension to the P-Set.

I took 14.01 in the fall semester, and in the lecture format. Although there were less big issues, I also noticed a lack of oversight in the quality of the recitations and P-Sets. Often P-Sets covered material before it was reviewed. One time the TA did not show up for a recitation. Nothing happened until I emailed the Professor to tell him about the issue. I remember less specific issues, but I did not feel that the class ran as well as classes offered in other departments in the Institute.

I’ve talked with about 5 other students about this issue. All have agreed with me that there is room for improvement in both 14.01 and 14.02. The items I have detailed may seem petty – but I think they are symptoms of a lack of attention to quality in 14.01 and 14.02. I believe that the root of this problem is a lack of attention paid to the overall quality of the class. It appears to me that too much was delegated to TAs without proper oversight. I noticed that in 6.01 the professor had regular staff meetings with the course staff; nothing has suggested that the same is done in course 14. In addition, the TAs seem to receive no to little training before being sent off to teach. Their lectures are often poorly organized as a result. The recitation only format, while it allowed me to take the class this semester for scheduling reasons, may not be a good idea.

The more I think about it, the more it appears systemic issues may be at the root of the issue. I mentioned the staff meetings earlier. In addition, EECS, for example, places a 40% weight on teaching for promotions and salary raises. I’m not sure what the policy is in course 14.

I wanted you to be aware of this issue because I think that improvement would be beneficial to future students taking the classes. Please let me know if you wish to discuss the issue further. Also, because I have not yet received a final grade, I would not like these comments to be taken the wrong way. Perhaps my name could be left out of discussions with the course staff until after the semester?

Thank you

–Michael Plasmeier