In February, McGill announced that it will be joining the edX Consortium, an initiative founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which has been a pioneer of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Amidst the varied responses to this news, a notable issue that this brings to the fore is the role of a physical campus in moulding our educational experience and fostering a sense of community. As the end of the year approaches, and with the constant financial uncertainty that comes with budget cuts, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon this sense of community, and what it means for McGill.
There has been a variety of responses to McGill’s involvement in edX; its advocates praise it as a move towards accessible education, while critics point to issues ranging from the fear of diluting McGill’s brand, to the loss of an interactive classroom experience. We certainly see merit in this format of learning, and in furthering educational accessibility. However, we feel that the value of our education here at McGill amounts to more than the hard knowledge that we take away; it is more than the diplomas we receive. There is a value to our education that MOOCs simply cannot replicate.
In addition to a university’s more formal and institutionally recognized assets, this ‘soft’ value arises from our interactions inside and outside the classroom with our fellow students and professors. It comes from our ability to seek out like-minded individuals and share our experiences with them. Education as we know it, entails more than the mere accumulation of knowledge; rather, it reflects a whole spectrum of lessons and experiences. Vital among these is the sense of community that a campus cultivates, whether on a large, institution-wide scale or, more often, in smaller components.
A constant challenge when discussing any aspect of education policy or the allocation of funds within the university is that everybody comes here with different expectations of what their experience at McGill will be like—both in terms of what they expect to put into it, and what they are expecting out of it. However, we strongly believe that the establishment of community is a constant. For some of us, we find it in extra-curricular programs; for others, communities reside within our faculties and departments. Some communities revolve around certain buildings or places, while others are brought together by social events.
As the administration contemplates its options in dealing with budgetary constraints, we insist that these sources of community are just as indispensable as any other component of our education. If you have a source of community that defines this university for you, fight for it. Let the administration know that this is just as much a part of McGill as the lectures or the libraries, and that its continuation is absolutely non-negotiable.
We feel that the value of our education here at McGill amounts to more than the hard knowledge that we take away; it is more than the diplomas we receive.
To those who feel that they aren’t getting what they had hoped to out of McGill, or those who do not identify with what has been said above, go out and seek the communities that you want to find. The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) supports over 250 student groups and services of all kinds—guaranteed, there really is something for everyone. There’s a lot more to university than just school, so make the most of what this experience has to offer.
Our editorials this year have ranged from anger, to disillusionment, even to starry-eyed optimism, but we leave you now with a simple message: take time to think about the communities that you’ve forged at McGill, and protect them however you can. Regardless of your outlook on your education—whether you are engaged in student politics, or are focused on your 4.0 GPA—it’s the connections you’ve made that will define this time for the rest of your life.