Life 101: ideas for the world

A free course with no exams, quizzes or tests? It’s not worth a credit but is it still beneficial? The dean of students at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College thinks so.

Kelley Castle, dean of students at Victoria College, recently launched the Ideas of the World experiment which involves six courses with no grades, no exams, no pre-requisites, no credit, and no charge— all part of a post-secondary education (PSE) experiment she calls ‘Ideas for the World.’

According to Wendy Freeman, assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences of McMaster University, “Students that are interested in these kinds of things, giving them opportunities to creatively use the knowledge and I think it might even enhance their performance in subsequent courses or courses they’re in as they do this.”

In a statement by Castle, she said, “For too long we’ve created classrooms where students aren’t interested in deep learning; they’re so worried about upsetting their professor, they’re afraid to take a risk.

But I really believe university should leave you stirred—and shaken.”

Freeman added that, “Now they are interacting more with the knowledge than trying to rope learn it, they are trying to understand how does it fit in the world, how do you use it to solve problems or understand things that are meaningful to them, which are things going on in the world today.”

However, Freeman also noted that, “I do think that this is a nice addition in order to help students apply knowledge, but I think that it wouldn’t replace more traditional kinds of courses where that knowledge acquisition takes place.”

Rumsha Usmani, second-year commerce major at U of T , contradicted this opinion when he said, “They [traditional courses] teach us about work ethic and discipline and I feel like taking a course that has no marking scheme or no anything wouldn’t do that right? Because you’re free to do whatever you want, there’s no discipline in that.”

Hasan Siddiqui, a second-year political science student at the University of Toronto Mississauga felt that such a course would enhance and encourage students to engage more freely in learning.

“A student can freely express their opinion, a student can freely contribute to it without any compromise in terms of being scared of marks,” he said.

“You will see a lot of students who take the course doing it out of personal will, because there’s no credit involved. If this is involved, and if this case is true, then you’ll see that they’re doing it out of personal interest and that they will actually contribute with a lot of quality.”

Maria Mingallon, a chartered structural engineer and professor of architecture at McGill University took a more critical approach, analyzing the pros and cons for both professor and student.

“The main difficulty for the teacher will be, how do you prove that the student has actually gone through the process that they should have throughout the course and that they have learned what the course was intended to give them to provide them with all the skills?” she said.

“But at the same time, you do leave the students free to learn how much they want and to make their own effort regardless of the marking system.”

However, as Mingallon put it, “It is a new way of teaching and a new way of forming professionals. It can open the mind of the student as to what actually their work in life would be.”

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