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I do not think that remote learning can replace the residential college. My company has tried allowing engineers to work remotely many times without great success except on very narrow and well-defined software development projects. Engineers who interact remotely collaborate less, learn more slowly and don't grow as engineers as well as those with daily personal interaction with other engineers. Even with instant messaging, video conferencing, etc. remote interaction is much less effective than in-person interaction.

The value of personal day-to-day interactions is further shown by our intern programs. We hire many student interns and participate in the MIT Extern Program. Our interns work closely with our engineering staff and are tremendously productive. They are able to work in areas that are new to them and produce high quality work. A half dozen 2 minute conversations are all they need to keep making progress in their tasks. Those interactions could not take place, as many are unplanned, in an online environment.

The residential college also provides opportunities for personal growth which is as important, if not more important, than the growth of one's technical abilities. College is for many students their first opportunity to be independent. At MIT most students meet a much broader range of people than they find in their home towns. Personal growth also comes from participation in clubs, sports and the arts at college. None of this can be replicated easily for the non-residential student.

Online learning tools may be an improvement over textbooks, which are a form of remote teaching, and are a valuable resource for practicing engineers as a way to keep up with the latest technology. For students starting careers in science and engineering, I think that the residential college is the essential place to start.

Education & Facilities, Educational experiences, online


Map's comment

Map said, "I do not think that remote learning can replace the residential college." that is certainly true when taken in toto, but large parts of the learning process can be done remotely. I believe that a motivated student could take large parts of the first year or two online.

Colleges aren't all that good at running hotels and residency is quite expensive. Personal interaction is essential, but need not occupy the full 4 years. What about one term on campus, one term back home doing it online? Online teaching is far more efficient - Stanford's online AI class had 400,000 students. By cutting residency in half, a college could put twice as many students through the process as it does now at only a small increase in cost.

Given the acceptance ratio at our top schools, one assumes that they would have no trouble finding qualified students to fill up the other half of the available learning space. Not only that, by staggering when they were on campus and when not, students would have twice as many people whom they could meet.