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the classes among us by Waly N. '24

reflections and too many flashbacks on classes ft. ESG

Personally, I have always found it ironic how universities tout their student: faculty ratio. For freshmen and prospective students, how significant is this number? Does a ratio of 5:1 mean a lot when you can have a freshman lecture size of 400?

One of the quintessential features of American college is the big, spacious rooms where lectures take place. When I imagined college in high school, I imagined being in one of these huge halls, taking a class surrounded by countless other students. Similar to the lecture videos one would see on MIT OCW01 MIT Open CourseWare, basically freshman fall but free or youtube.

I liked this thought, but at the same time, a future in these big lecture halls felt odd and foreign.02 not a coronavirus premonition I swear Was it an experience I could be fine with? Of course. I would probably need some time to get accustomed to a new atmosphere, but over time, I would find my niche. Yet I had lingering worries of how it would be like being in such a large atmosphere. Worries about how these classes could wind up feeling highly impersonal.

Now, what is even more ironic is probably the fact that I came from a pretty large high school. We had several thousand people in our school, which is probably larger than some small towns. I presume one could say that even though our high school was large, our classes were not, with around 30 in a set class. Nothing like the size of lecture halls, but those classes of roughly 30 were sometimes intimidating as well. Not in the number of people. But because of how I continuously am an absolute expert at clowning myself in large groups. Basically, I start the year planning to participate, but those plans go haywire very quickly. never again, me hiding in a metaphorical box

I have always loved my STEM classes,03 with few exceptions :o but often find it difficult to ask questions or participate in a larger setting. Kinda a long-running anxiety snowball of second-guessing my answers. In most humanities classes, on topics that deal with analysis, interpretation, or arguments, the line between right or wrong answers is more blurred, so it felt more natural to participate in a discussion for me. But for STEM classes, there are often very right and very wrong answers, so I usually find myself too slow to answer or blatantly wrong. It took a while, but I’ve found a greater sense of solace and peace of mind in being able to ask questions in smaller groups. In high school, I utilized this as much as I could, and it was greatly beneficial to me for the most part.

So during the summer before MIT, one of the things that took my interest was ESG, one of the small freshman learning communities. There are multiple that freshmen can apply/lottery into, such as Terrascope (a more environment/sustainability-directed one), Concourse (humanities-STEM mixture), and Tutmonda (a brand-new language-centered one). If you have read my introduction, you probably know how this story ends. Tl;dr, I’m in ESG, because for once, just once, I actually won a raffle. And considering that stroke of luck, I probably am gonna get struck by lightning soon.

But if we backtrack to last July-ish, I was just thinking about applying to learning communities and freshman advising seminars.04 advising classes in many topics like knot theory, politics in covid, and more (freshman only btw) I thought of applying mainly to Terrascope and ESG for learning communities, though the decision between the two was difficult. I liked the sustainability aspect of Terrascope along with the 12-unit class all Terrascopers take in the fall. But at the same time, I felt that ESG would make for a less road bumpy start to freshman fall. My thought process was that MIT was gonna hit me hard anyway, so I might as well try to have a floatie to lessen the impact.

Before starting the school year, many thoughts flooded my mind. I knew for certain that I would be taking my math and physics GIRs in ESG, but for Chemistry, it was a much harder process. ESG has a chemistry GIR class, but course 3 (Material Science) offered a solid-state chemistry class that I felt would be more applicable to me. Especially since I’m flopping like a fish regarding what I’m majoring in at the moment.05 Courses 1-24

Fast-forwarding back to now,06 Sorry this turned into a bad time lapse story :) it’s been about a month of taking classes both inside and outside of ESG. Regarding my ESG classes, I’ve grown to really enjoy the structure of the small environment. Many of the key aspects playing in my decision over what learning communities to apply to have been particularly important to this virtual semester.

Now, this isn’t to say that smaller classes make topics easier. For reference, this is live, unedited footage of how my two brain cells in 8.0107 Physics Mechanics, also featuring me struggling with communications are doing:

So yes, I did get hit hard by MIT. Full throttle.

8.01 has been hard, not harder than I expected it to be, because I expected it to be hard to start with. It’s been a struggle but at the same time an enjoyable one. There have been certain days that I’ve felt very confused and disheartened. But through that, there’s been so much support from my professors and throughout the wider ESG community. Just a whole, wholesome community that is there without even asking.

Between general classes, office hours, and more simple daily interactions, everyone is just so helpful and friendly. I don’t like hyperboles, but it’s everything I could have wanted in classes. So even when class is hard, I feel like pressing “play again” rather than “quit.”

There is a completely different dynamic than my larger high school classes and even a more drastic difference when compared to my much larger Chemistry class. With only about 6-10 people in my 2 ESG classes, I feel far better about clowning myself with bad questions or very wrong answers.08 big emphasis on very I can ask the questions that I wouldn’t have asked in a larger room. When I go to office hours, I’m able to ask for help or clarifications easily and feel fulfilled being there. In a nutshell, learning feels really accessible. It’s a similar feel to any time I was in small groups in high school, in a good sense.

When I look at physics compared to chemistry, which is a mainstream class, there is a stark difference between my ESG and general experience. I would say both are rather difficult, as we can clearly see here, featuring bad lag:09 Shout to my friends for helping make these live-action vids!

But in Chemistry, there isn’t the same feeling of support due to it being a much larger class, which is compounded by our virtual environment. To some extent, my slight worries about a large lecture hall were realized, and I find myself being more lost and isolated in that class than my others, including my CI-H10 Intro to Media Studies! (which has around 25 people).

Everything isn’t rosy in my 2 small classes of course. It most likely wouldn’t be a perfect experience for everyone. Even for me, there are days when I want to just turn off my camera and nod off thanks to Zoom Fatigue/Overload/I’m tired of it, but I really can’t because there are about 6 other people in the room. It would be pretty damn obvious. There is a pretty clear plus side of this since it forces me to stay accountable with classes, and I have little self-control to do so otherwise. And I personally enjoy the fact we have lectures 4-5 times a week. It doesn’t feel too rushed, so I can grasp material decently well.

When I was applying for ESG, MIT had not formally announced freshman wouldn’t be on campus yet, and my lingering hope was fading, but still there. So consequently, this wasn’t something I factored into my choice of learning communities or freshman advising seminars. I had no clue Zoom would be the quintessential lecture hall for this year, where I’d be partaking in class surrounded by my classmates, except on my screen. But seeing the student-faculty ratio I always found ironic become a reality, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice to rank it.

  1. MIT Open CourseWare, basically freshman fall but free back to text
  2. not a coronavirus premonition I swear back to text
  3. with few exceptions :o back to text
  4. advising classes in many topics like knot theory, politics in covid, and more (freshman only btw) back to text
  5. Courses 1-24 back to text
  6. Sorry this turned into a bad time lapse story :) back to text
  7. Physics Mechanics, also featuring me struggling with communications back to text
  8. big emphasis on very back to text
  9. Shout to my friends for helping make these live-action vids! back to text
  10. Intro to Media Studies! back to text