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Higher Education Is a Lifestyle

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This week, I'm taking a powered-down vacation with my wife and daughter, so I've invited two students from my education class at MIT to share their thoughts on the future of education. First up, Sebastian Begg discusses EdX, its potential, and the reaction from MIT. On Thursday, Ryan Normandin discusses his vision of effective technology integration.

With the recent unveiling of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard's digital learning platform, EdX, the exclusivity of the MIT and Harvard undergraduate education is allegedly crumbling.

As a current MIT undergraduate, I can recount the wave of dissent from fellow students following the announcement of EdX: my peers - who throughout their high school careers had toiled over countless hours of homework, over-engaged themselves in extracurricular activities, sweated over the standard deviation of SAT scores, and poured their hearts and souls into college applications to beat MIT's ridiculously low acceptance rate - felt cheated, taken advantage of, scammed. Many of these students, who had fought tooth and nail to earn a spot at MIT, felt as though their education was being significantly depreciated by the free publication of extensive course materials: anybody in the world can now virtually sit in their classes, complete their homework assignments, watch their professors present lectures, and take their exams. And to add insult to injury, as opposed to paying two-hundred thousand dollars to earn an MIT undergraduate degree, anybody can now pay a small fee to receive an "MIT Certificate of Completion" if they complete certain online courses. Individuals of all ages, all over the world, can now call themselves "MIT Students." Receiving an MIT education is allegedly no longer exclusive.

Allegedly.

An MIT education, and any higher education for that matter, consists of much more than watching online lectures. It consists of much more than working through problem-sets. It consists of much more than taking an exam and receiving a grade stamped at the top of your paper. It consists of much more than sitting at a computer for several hours each day, completing course modules and sifting through electronic textbooks and course documents. A higher education is built on the foundation of social interactions: student to faculty, student to student, faculty to faculty. The richness of a higher education is a product of the intellectual encounters that occur within academic communities. As fantastically as a textbook might be written, an online lecture might be presented, or an assessment might be structured, it is the thought-provoking and creativity-sparking conversations among students and faculty that make higher education so unique. Living and breathing within a community of thousands of other bright minds is the defining characteristic of colleges and universities across the world: higher education is a lifestyle that cannot be earned with a certificate of completion.

I urge my peers to recognize that the value of the EdX initiative lies in supplementing the education of the intellectually curious. EdX not only champions the relentless work of professors and educators at MIT, but it also encourages higher education across the world, an initiative that is most certainly well-intentioned. EdX is an amazing gift to those who crave knowledge, to those who share the same determination as that of the very students comprising the MIT and Harvard undergraduate population.

In the future, I envision EdX to evolve into a networking tool for academics across the world, a tool for intellectuals yearning for more of those "thought-provoking and creativity-sparking" interactions to use in forming their own academic communities. I can only hope for the community of intellectually inclined individuals across the world to expand with the implementation of EdX.

Sebastian Begg is a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Class of 2014, and is currently studying neuroscience within MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. He is from Wellesley, MA and currently lives in Boston. He hopes to earn his Master's Degree in Neuroscience following his undergraduate career.

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