The McGill Administration announced on Wednesday that the university is joining the edX consortium, a non-profit online learning effort founded by Harvard and MIT less than a year ago. edX is part of a larger movement of websites offering “massive open online courses” (MOOCs), with a mission to provide free, quality education to a broader audience. McGill’s addition to the consortium is part of an effort to globalize edX; three schools from outside the Americas, plus the University of Toronto, announced their membership on the same day.
McGill professors will begin instructing online courses by 2014. The initial offerings will include science, humanities and public policy courses. The online classes offered by edX are free of charge. Traditionally, completion of the course does not offer academic credit to the student.
Nevertheless, the lack of academic credit does not hinder course enrolment. The popularity of MOOCs is increasing annually as an average course will have an enrolment of hundreds to thousands of students.
In a statement provided to the McGill community, Provost Anthony Masi cited students and staff, specifically the Academic Working Group on Innovative Pedagogy, for their help in executing the project. Fitting with the mission of the consortium, McGill envisions that membership in the edX will facilitate “research (on) how students learn and how technology can transform learning – both on-campus and worldwide.”
However, it remains to be seen how membership in the edX will benefit students on-campus, especially considering further massive cuts to McGill’s budget announced only the day before. As students and staff, we must be aware of the potential costs and benefits of joining the consortium. With the budget cuts doubling to an estimated $38.2 million by April, this new initiative might provide McGill with a more diverse portfolio, but how will current and future part-time and full-time students be affected?
The question of prioritization must be addressed as cuts continue to affect students’ daily lives. With smaller course offerings and less funding to departments, will edX be a step forward or a step backward for the McGill community at large?
Ultimately, with the introduction and widespread appeal of online courses, the university experience is evolving. McGill has seized an opportunity by offering this new style of digital learning and establishing itself as an integral part of the growing technological age.