Since last week’s round of emergency town halls at the St. George and Mississauga campuses, I’ve engaged in plenty of conversation surrounding the province’s discussion paper “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge”. The document—released in June—provides suggestions for improving the quality of postsecondary education in Ontario while striking a balance between government and student interests.
According to the government of Ontario, this means changing the way the province invests in postsecondary education and the learning environment to which students are exposed.
Recognizing that the paper is meant to encourage discussion and not implement actual policy (yet), I’d like to point out the most concerning suggestion in the paper—and by “most concerning”, I mean the one most likely to occur and develop regardless of policy changes from the government.
The paper states, “Efficiency-focused strategies to contain costs can reduce the capacity of critical services and may not always deliver sustainable operational savings. […] These challenges can potentially be addressed in the medium and long term by adopting innovation in the sector to drive productivity.”
That’s a lot of fancy talk to say that the government needs to cut back on spending and that it can be done by enrolling more students in online courses. Ridding “redundancies” such as lecture halls and office hours will assist the government in its plan to introduce austerity measures to reduce the large provincial deficit.
While I’m all for spending money wisely and making information more accessible to people via the Internet, I don’t think that online courses are the answer, especially for maintaining the quality of education.
I sit in a classroom with my peers as the information is presented and discussed. I am exposed to a creative and innovative community that teaches me not only how to critically analyze readings and effectively write essays, but to absorb verbal information quickly and voice my own opinions, questions, and concerns to a large group of people.
The university has already introduced more online courses, as have Ivy League in the United States. Online courses provide people with the opportunity to learn about topics they otherwise would not have been exposed to due to geographical or financial barriers. My concern is that this secondary aspect of a university education will grow until most students are enrolled online and bound to their computer screens. I hope that my children will have the opportunity to engage with their professors and fellow students the way I have. In my opinion, this person-to-person intellectual interaction has been the most effective and beneficial part of my university education.