The online college experience

The end of August is a magical time of year, where students’ bank accounts everywhere are drying up after signing their tuition checks. Does this sad reality have to be the case? Surely there is a way for a student to receive a high quality education that might not force them to eat Kraft Dinner for every night of their undergrad? In fact, a computer science professor has created a solution that might shape a future where the words ‘student’ and ‘broke’ are no longer synonymous.

Anant Agarwal, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the president of a new and upcoming not-for-profit organization called edX.org. edX is an online service that offers an array of courses from top universities such as Harvard and University of Toronto. The online classes offer video lecture components as well as forum and online communication somewhat similar to Brock’s own Sakai. With an array of courses offered (everything from Ancient Chinese History to Computer Science), the online format appeals to students from any walk of life or persuasion. The courses do not contribute credits towards degrees however, only ‘certificates of mastery’ which are issued upon passing each final examination.

Online forums and postings might be the future of education, but it is certainly no replacement for the interactive learning experience provided by physical, intimate seminars. The point of the free-to-use service might not be to replace the conventional format according to its founder.

“Education is our cause, it’s important that people around the world have access to a great education,” Agarwal states, “Universities are doing this so that they can bring the learning back on our campus”. As a reinforcement for a higher level of education or as a way to provide students with the skills to be successful in university, edX.org could certainly play a large role.

The idea of a fully accessible, free, university education is not nearly as benign in other parts of the World as it is in North America. Countries like Sweden and Cuba provide entirely subsidized university and college degrees for all of its citizens. Clearly, the cost to the government would be sweeping to provide that level of conventional campus education. However, through this new method of online classes and e-learning, any government or university would be able to reach large populations effectively and with little cost.

Canadian and American universities are ranked among the top in the World, therefore providing the level of expertise offered at any Canadian campus through the conduit of a website or program would be ideal. Education has the ability to prevent many preventable tragedies such as poverty, starvation and infant mortality; anything that strives to spread knowledge and freedom of thought must be thoroughly considered.

Although education through more personalized, online formats may be the future, are you willing to give up the campus experience? Without the university pride, the meeting of new lifelong friends and Harlem Shake videos—is it really university?

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