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Of course: Unique Planet
The Evolving Earth, one of the four core courses of the McGill School of Environment, wants nothing less than the development of students' "ability to recognize and appreciate the interwoven roles of chance, necessity and history in the evaluation of any given environmental situation." So reads a few lines on page one of the course's 17-page course outline.
Designed to help students gain an understanding of the "key processes of geological and biological evolution that underlie patterns of variation among landscapes and biota," this 26-lecture course takes the 110, mostly U1, students from the creation of the earth to the role played by plate tectonics, to the origins of humans, the patterns of species diversity through the Earth's history ending with the impact of humans on biodiversity.
To put their knowledge and understanding of concepts to regular practical use, the 110 students are divided into 15 on-line discussion groups where they are expected to research and discuss assigned topics. That students get smart with both library -- and web-based research — not to mention web-based communication -- is one of the course's objectives.
"Even by the second semester, some of the students don't know how to work the web," notes Martin Lechowicz, professor of biology and course coordinator.
Lechowicz calls the course "pretty unique," even among the other MSE courses. Having the course "team taught" by a biologist, an earth and planetary scientist, a geographer, plant scientist and a natural resource scientist is no mean feat. Before the course began last year, the original five teachers worked with Cynthia Weston from the Centre for University Teaching and Learning. "She helped us break out of our grid of our respective disciplines and to understand that the point of the MSE is the interdisciplinary nature," says Lechowicz.
Being truly interdisciplinary means putting up with a fellow prof's interruptions. "It means you avoid jargon," says Lechowicz, explaining that the geologist doesn't know the biologist's lingo and will ask for clarification. "It's a professorial exchange; the students get a kick out of it."
Muse 2 is not a new Pokémon
A new frontier in library technology is about to be crossed at McGill.
Starting May 1, the Library's on-line library catalogue will be accessible through the Internet, thanks to a powerful web-based search engine: the Aleph 500 software.
Designed by Ex Libris, the new Unix and Oracle-based system has been baptized MUSE 2, the McGill University Libraries Catalogue, and will replace the original text-based MUSE installed in 1985.
The transition to MUSE 2 promises to be smooth, given that some 50 library staffers have been working on the upgrade over the past few months. While library services will continue during the changeover, circulation will be interrupted during the final chapter of the switch — on April 27, 28 and 29. The three-day suspension will enable the final transfer of circulation information from MUSE to MUSE 2. The arrival of MUSE 2 is good news for library users, since it will permit the retrieval of book excerpts and journal articles in electronic format. It will even permit users to search multiple library catalogues simultaneously, without leaving the MUSE 2 interface.
"The Aleph 500 software we've adopted," says Frances Groen, director of McGill's libraries, "is the cornerstone of our digital library efforts and will provide our libraries with a gateway to the world."
And that's just the beginning, she adds. Because it is web-based, the Aleph 500 system will allow students to consult their library records, renew book loans and check for outstanding fines from home. "Soon, internal documents — from course evaluations to theses — may also be available through this system."
The purchase of McGill's new Aleph 500 system was made possible through a $1.5-million donation by Seymour Schulich, a McGill graduate (BSc'61, MBA'65) and Montreal-born businessman who is now chairman and CEO of the Toronto-based Franco-Nevada Mining Corporation Limited. Principal Bernard Shapiro also committed $500,000 of McGill funds to upgrade library computer terminals in all public and staff areas.
Students do it again
Once again, McGill students have proved themselves true patrons of the libraries. The Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) has raised a $500,000 Library Improvement Fund. In recognition of student generosity, the University has matched the fund, dollar for dollar, thereby doubling the donation to $1 million.
During the recently-held official presentation of the gift, Principal Bernard Shapiro thanked students for their initiative. "It's heart-warming that students have demonstrated their faith in McGill's future through this donation since it will benefit future [classes] of students rather than the present one."
The SSMU collected its portion of the Library Improvement Fund by charging students an extra $14 in yearly fees. It was an amount McGill students accepted by referendum last year.
Seventy per cent of the new funds will be used to purchase books, monographs and journals Ð for all libraries Ð with 10 percent of the donation earmarked to buy books on student request lists. Another $200,000 will be used for the McGill University Libraries Digital Millennium Initiative, a program geared to providing more library computer work stations and study spaces for students.
"Students know how much the University is constrained budget-wise," said Tom Thompson, deputy director of development (campaign planning). "So they have taken the initiative to provide funds for the libraries, from which they will immediately benefit."
This is the second time in McGill's history that students have directly contributed to their libraries; the first was a $1.2-million gift, donated over three years, as part of McGill's 1995 Capital Campaign.
"The impetus for improving library conditions is on students," said Xavier Van Chau, SSMU vice-president (university affairs). "If we want our libraries to reflect the changes that are coming in the next 10 years, we have to prepare today."