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been properly taught in this respect, he will either find that he is entirely careless as to whether his results are correct or not, or else he will be full of a great sense of responsibility as to whether his work has been carried on correctly without knowing how to himself solve the difficulty.
There is a value, too, in this method of field work, in that it gives to the student a discipline, both in charge of a party as chief in the way that has been recommended and also as a subordinate.
PROFESSOR BURTON, in closing the discussion, said there was only one point he wished to refer to, and that was the impression he must have given in regard to the number of instructors. He said that they had a number of instructors, and that they would have one instructor to every four students, but they sometimes sent out parties without instructors. He did believe thoroughly in putting the responsibility on the students, but he wished to save the student's time and give him the greatest amount of training in the limited time at their disposal.
He also wanted to say, in regard to the plane-table as a method of instruction, that it should not be incorporated in the regular term practice of the student. Its place was in the vacation course. There were not enough topographers demanded, however, to make it worth while to use the plane-table with all students.
GAETANO LANZA, S. B.; C. M. E.,
Professor of Applied Mechanics, in charge of the Department of Mechan
ical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston.
In order to obtain a degree in most, if not in all, of our engineering schools, the candidate is required:
First. To pursue certain lines of study, and of laboratory work.
Second. To pass certain examinations.
In regard to the first, it is evident that the object in view is to give the student instruction, and thus to prepare him to engage successfully in the work of his chosen profession; and whenever the question arises whether certain studies or certain laboratory work should be introduced into the course, and to what extent, there is one and but one criterion by which to determine the answer and that is, whether the result will be to impart to the student such instruction as he most needs to lead to his success in life, after he takes up the practice of his profession.
It is plain that the course should be so arranged as to attain the above stated object as effectually as possible.
When, on the other hand, we consider the second matter, viz.: examinations, we find that their object is to form a partial test of the students' progress, and to keep him up to his work. They have nothing to do, except incidentally, with imparting instruction, and are merely a necessary evil with which we, of this age, have not been able to devise a suitable means of dispensing, but which we hope may be dispensed with by some future generation wiser than our own; for, if the student could be kept up to his work without examinations, and if some perfectly fair means of rating his progress could be devised, then the time gained by omitting examinations would be much better spent in extending and in improving the course of instruction.
When we take up the requirement that the candidate for the degree is to prepare and present a satisfactory thesis, we must first consider why this requirement should be made at all. If the only, or the principal object to be accomplished by the thesis were to serve as a test by which to determine the fitness of the candidate for graduation, then the thesis would become not a necessary but an unnecessary evil, and the time consumed in preparing it would much better be spent in further study. The requirement of a graduating thesis, therefore, on any such ground as this, would be entirely indefensible.
But the writer does believe thoroughly in the requirement of a thesis, as a most important feature in the course of instruction, not merely in the case of a candidate for graduation, but also, in the case of a special student who is far enough advanced in his professional work to undertake one. In determining what should be its nature, however, we should refuse to consider any possible functions that it may fulfill, as a method of ascertaining the amount of progress the student has made, or his capability, but the question should be decided solely with reference to the part it would play in imparting instruction of the kind necessary to prepare the student to make a success in his professional life in the long run. That the principles enunciated above have been, and are frequently disregarded, will be evident to any one who will examine the practice of engineering schools in the past, and that followed in many cases to-day.
Probably, in the early days of engineering schools, the requirement was made because it had been customary in some of the colleges to require of the candidate for the A. B. degree a so-called thesis, or composition, no very distinct idea having been formulated as to what should be the object of a thesis in an engineering school.
The thesis required for the A. B. degree by some of the colleges has, in many cases, been merely a composition to show that the student can write English intelligibly; and at their best, these college theses have had for their object: first, to show that the training of the candidate is such that he can take up and discuss some subject; and second, that he can express his ideas clearly, and in well chosen language.
As to the subject itself, it is likely to be one of a general character, as a political or literary subject, and often one about which there may easily be a variety of opinions. These ideas transferred to an engineering school would give rise to a class of theses, of which there have been many, in which the student describes some existing or proposed engineering work, and discusses its features to such an extent as to show that he is able to understand it, sometimes making the calculations for some or all of the stresses by means of formulæ in common use, and also making a certain number of drawings.
Such work as this may, of course, benefit the student to a small extent, but the part that it can play in his instruction is very small when compared with what ought to be accomplished by a thesis.
On the other hand, projects or designs are often made which are so extensive that they would require the careful thought, study, and work of an experienced engineer. In these cases the student does not undertake to study and design the details, but confines himself to glittering generalities, since the very extent of the problem precludes the proper consideration of the details in the time at his disposal.
Hence, since the details have a controlling influence, it is more than likely that such a design as I have described above would be entirely unsuitable to be carried out in practice. Designs, whether used for theses or not, should be of such a character that the student may be able to work out all the details.
Theses, of the kinds I have described above, and others of a similar nature, have for their main object to show what the candidate can do, and not to increase his powers of doing good and thorough work. Nevertheless, there have been and are still too many theses written and accepted, of the kinds described above. Indeed, this character of thesis is very likely (though