The Columns

Harrigan: Four Years, Four Cities, One Platform

— by on June 8th, 2015

by Ravenel Harrigan

The future of higher education has been expanded from the traditional classroom setting to teacher lectures online to live online platforms. Each model caters to students’ education in various ways, but Minerva, an online platform university, is a new form of education worth looking into further. It is different than the typical university, in which there is no campus with a dining hall, gym or library. There are administrative offices and a dorm in which all students live together allowing for constant lateral learning. Students are required to supply themselves with an Apple laptop in order to take part of Minerva’s seminars on the platform. Since the professor is actually present on the platform, not just a recorded video, it keeps students attentive since they are continually watched. Minerva is a model worth considering because of the active learning through group exercises, ability to obtain an educational experience in four cities over four years, and the freshmen “habits of mind” and “foundational concepts” courses.

Minerva takes group work to a new level. Although the students are not physically present with one another, the professor can easily group students together by a click of a button, which makes all students vanish from the screen except the ones in your group. This cuts back on wasted class time of students trying to pair themselves and the shuffling of desks. All Minerva courses are small, seminar based classes, allowing groups to work together intimately, rather than at a big university that has large classes and minimal group discussions. Since the classes are seminars, not lectures, this keeps students attentive and constantly intermingling with one another. Lectures are easy to teach, but hard to learn from because there is little discussion or participation to keep one’s attention. I agree with Minerva’s model of not having lecture classes, especially because it is only catering to one type of learner. The various ways the teachers can manipulate the screen from giving a short quiz to grouping students within a second to open discussions on the platform allows multiple ways of understanding concepts.

Unlike most other universities, freshmen 101 courses do not exist, but instead the “habits of mind” and “foundational concepts” are the first-year classes. During a regular freshmen 101 class, the majority of material has either been previously taught in high school or useless knowledge for the future. By eliminating 101’s it allows the curriculum to start from the basis of the “habits of mind” and “foundational concepts” courses, which are the core for all logical thinking (Wood). These classes develop critical thinking in all fields. For example, in the sciences, since there are no labs, instead of conducting an experiment, the students would acquire a deep understanding for why a constant or control is necessary for an experiment. Instead of going through the motions and checking the box, students develop a base of knowledge that is helpful beyond a single lab class. These skills will help them throughout the future. Therefore when choosing between Minerva’s five majors—arts and humanities, social sciences, computational sciences, natural science and business—the students have a deeper understanding about each subject beyond the surface. Additionally, professors will try to pair students of different majors together, giving one another new perspectives and different points of view on a topic. This expands their horizons by broadening their knowledge outside of the core classes.

Students at Minerva become their own community despite not having a campus since they live together in one dorm for four years in four different cities around the world. Not only do the students learn on the platform about foreign sites, but also they learn by experiencing these places. It is not studying from afar like a normal curriculum, but immersing oneself into the culture. Students learn how to interact with multiple types of people, which enable them to communicate with various cultures. This way of learning and experiencing at the same time expands ones perspective on life. Living in another country is very different than visiting one. Students have to put themselves out there and figure out their daily routines and possibly a new language. Minerva has a dorm in San Francisco, and hopes to expand to campuses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, New York and London, giving students a vast international experience, unlike other institutions that only stay in one central area.

Minerva is a model not worth considering for everyone, however, but it offers a unique experience for others who find this type of education just right. Many students might be opposed to this since it is not the “typical” college experience at a traditional university, although others might be intrigued by the idea of an online platform in various countries. If I could do college twice, I would definitely consider Minerva or something similar for my second go round of college. The major draw for me would be the intense cultural experience the students receive every year while learning in a new form. However I believe this model should be considered for further expansion, because there could be some difficulties. Even though Minerva advertises on being cheaper since they take out most aspects of a regular university, once calculating flights to foreign places every year and living expenses there is a high probability that it is equally as expensive as many other institutions. Another problem Minerva might face is how they have no library, gym or dining area for all students to use. Despite these issues, it still offers a very unique college experience.

Minerva’s educational design of using an online platform to teach students is one worth considering. The concept of living in four different places over four years is beneficial to the student’s growth. It gives them the ability to interact with people in various cultures and backgrounds. Through group work on the platform and one dorm for all students, it creates a community despite not having a real campus. Minerva allows students the freedom they want, but also while receiving an educational experience in various places.

Ravenel Harrigan, of the Class of 2018, is from Richmond, Va.