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The Experimental College in Theory

Beaver yearbook, Experimental College Students Studying, 1973.

Interactive classroom dynamic at the EC with multiple instructors and students engaged with one another, 1973

In his proposal for the EC as well as in follow-up writings, Dr. Clausen envisioned the EC operating with a particular dynamic. It was to be limited to 140 students and a staff of seventeen faculty. The resultant low student-to-teacher ratio was designed to create small class sizes, which had been identified as helpful in learning environments, making them more direct, intimate, and manageable. This ratio would also allow for easier communication between student and faculty as everyone would be more likely to recognize each other.

The EC was thought of as a “community of scholars;" it would be "communicable" in both of that term's meanings. Ideas would be readily transmitted, due to open pathways of communication, and also in the manner of a virus, due to the insular nature of the EC.

Students and faculty were to be on an equal plane. Faculty were not to be called faculty at all; they were to be referred to as collaborators. The goal of this identification and communication scheme was to create “an environment of trust” and an overwhelming sense of “humanistic spirit” within the EC. This would allow for a more permissive and open classroom as identified in Earl Sargent’s 1966 text, “A Study to Determine Certain Characteristics of Earth Science Curriculum Project Teachers and Students in the Permissive or Authoritarian Classrooms.”

Dr. Clausen identified core practices used within permissive classroom settings in Sargent's study as models for the EC's operation at MSC. Other ideas for the EC came from workshops put on by the NSF, where idea exchanges and networking between interested educators occurred. As a condition for receiving NSF grant money, developers, professionals, and educators were required to attend NSF events, which operated as clearinghouses for progressive educational policies and the development of new educational systems. Finally, the EC made use of practices used at contemporary experimental colleges, such as Evergreen College in Washington State, which was developed at the same time as the EC at MSC.