More from March Senate: edX MOOCs partnership questioned

Posted on Thursday, March 21, 2013

By McGill Reporter Staff

In yesterday’s monthly Senate meeting, some McGill Senators expressed concern at what they perceived as a lack of consultation prior to McGill’s joining the edX consortium to begin offering “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) in 2014.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based edX, founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, delivers learning designed specifically for interactive study via the Internet.

During the Senate meeting of January 23, led by the Academic Working Group on Innovative Pedagogy, Senators took part in an open discussion on innovative learning environments, with a particular focus on MOOCs.

The decision to join the edX consortium was announced to the McGill community on February 20.

In answer to a question posed by Senator Catherine Lu, asking why Senate was not informed of the context surrounding its open discussion on MOOCs and why the Academic Working Group on Innovative Pedagogy didn’t report its insights and recommendations to Senate before any decision was made to involve McGill in the development and delivery of them, Provost Anthony Masi cited how University statutes do not require Senate approval on administrative matters of this kind, and said that he believed that Senate has had ample opportunity to discuss MOOCs and edX.

“McGill Statutes, Article 3 states, and I quote, “the Principal may initiate any project which the Principal considers beneficial to the University, and may present to the Senate or the Board of Governors . . .

“Joining the a MOOC consortium has, for some time, been considered as potentially beneficial to McGill and, in broad outline, while not in specific details, Senate and one of its main committees, APC, have had several opportunities to discuss MOOCs and edX,” Masi said. “In all of the presentations of ASAP 2012 to Senate, which I believe have occurred at least a half-dozen times, I have placed considerable emphasis on the importance of innovative pedagogy, technology-assisted instruction, and improving the undergraduate experience,” he said.

Masi also explained that he was unable to discuss the pending edX contract at the following Senate meeting (February 20) for reasons of confidentiality.

“The Senate meeting of 20 February, as you will recall, was on Tuesday, not Wednesday as is normal practice, and discussions with edX on legal matters were still under way during that Senate meeting which were concluded later that evening. The announcement of new edX members, including McGill, was embargoed by the consortium until the next day, so I was not permitted to share information about these arrangements prior to that date.”

In response to follow up questions and a comment from Senator Jonathan Mooney, who said he considered the failure to share information about its negotiations with edX prior to the Jan. 23 open discussion as “not fair to Senate…not respectful of Senate and I think it’s almost an abuse of process,” Masi said that “it’s not a question of keeping things secret. edX is mentioned in ASAP, it’s there. Read it….We are not alone in saying we’re going to be part of edX. It was a negotiation… It’s a very restricted consortium, something that might otherwise, under different circumstances, be celebrated rather than criticized.”

Other business on the Senate agenda included questions on student mental health and a review of Senate composition and qualifications, an open discussion on professorial/student interactions and revisions to the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures presented by Lydia White, Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity). Those revisions will return to Senate for approval in April.

Senate also approved a Statement of Principles Concerning Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and discussed new Operating Procedures Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations on McGill University Campuses. Read more about those issues in a separate article, here.

Click here to view the documents from the Senate meeting of March 20.

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