In Lockdown, lessons from Minerva – an online college without a campus – The University Times

The coronavirus pandemic is prompting universities around the world to adjust the way they deliver their academic courses. Trinity has not been immune to this: Provost Patrick Prendergast confirmed this month that lectures and classes for more than 25 people will be delivered online for at least the first semester.

Such seismic shifts towards online education are shaking the future of colleges around the world. But they are not sent to all University.

One college had already set up online learning platforms before the pandemic. It had aroused both skepticism and praise.


Enter Minerva.

Founded by former Snapfish CEO Ben Nelson in 2012 to provide “an extraordinary liberal arts and science education for the best students in the world”, KGI (Keck Graduate Institute) Minerva Schools operate in a world apart – around the world .

There is data in technology that allows you to both measure and change the way you teach to increase engagement

Aiming to provide an Ivy League-quality education at a lower cost than other private universities in the United States, Minerva uses some rather unorthodox methods to achieve this.

Namely: he does all his teaching online, and he has no campus.

“The university hopes to transform education,” says Diana El-Azar, senior director of strategic communications and market development at Minerva. She admits it’s a tough goal to achieve, but says that by connecting with other schools and universities, she has high hopes for success.

In many ways, Minerva is both a college of our time and a college of our future. Because the world is changing rapidly, with increasingly interconnected societies and industries, many of today’s careers will become obsolete while new ones are created. With this in mind, Minerva believes that a new approach to specialization is needed, starting with its major programs, which it differentiates from all others. Here, students can choose to earn their undergraduate degree at five accredited colleges – Arts and Humanities, Business, Computer Science, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences – all based online.

Now, with a pandemic spotlighting online learning, Minerva’s goal has rarely seemed so ahead of the curve. But his virtual platform isn’t just about putting things online for fun, El-Azar insists. Instead, she says, “it’s really about using it the right way” — in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional classroom environment.

In fact, in some ways it seems Following effective than traditional education. She says, “There is data in technology that allows you to both measure and change the way you teach to increase engagement. That’s what separates online-recorded “corona lectures” from Minerva lectures, El-Azar says. In online minor seminary courses, all Minerva students are expected to speak.

Minerva students pictured during an experiential semester in Berlin.

Photo of Minerva

By all appearances, the lockdown didn’t seem to affect Minerva students too much on this issue.

Antonia Boorman, a student from Northern Ireland, is full of praise for the university’s teaching style: “Minerva’s curriculum itself has had a huge impact on what I’ve learned and the way I learned. »

Having a platform that allows students to develop and deepen their knowledge at all stages of their degree is, for Boorman, one of the strengths of the study program. In fact, Boorman says it outperforms many of its competitors such as Zoom or Google Hangouts – the lockdown favorites of most academic institutions.

“Something unique about the active learning platform is that it’s designed to encourage learning,” Boorman says. “For example, professors can’t speak for more than five minutes or they’re interrupted, which encourages discussion and debate and deepens the topic.”

Such was Minerva’s early success that YouTube star Jade Bowler – best known for her UnJaded Jade YouTube channel, which has over 430,000 subscribers since 2017 – was drawn to the modern learning experience. In an email, she wrote, “The nature of education via the Active Learning Forum means that I am much more engaged in the classroom than I was in traditional classes.”

The active learning forum described by Bowler enables a modern educational experience. One of her favorite features of teaching online is its fluidity, allowing for seamless education: “I love that we can take a class from anywhere with good WiFi. This allows for flexibility, without compromising the quality of education.

Teachers are not there to talk to you – rather they are the carriers of the conversation

Pablo Guarneros, a second-year humanities and computer science student, is equally enthusiastic. Although he claims that the unfamiliarity of the online course format for many teachers undermines the merits of online learning, it is the style of a teaching that speaks volumes: “Teachers are not there to talk to you, they are rather the carriers of the conversation.”

For Guarneros, Minerva isn’t just an “online school” — he says “living school” is a better description. The diverse environment that makes up Minerva attracts many students, which by implication extends to a diverse student body. Guarneros tells me that in a seminar of 12 people, “there will be at least seven or eight different countries represented”.

Indeed, perhaps the most discussed feature of the undergraduate degree at Minerva is this diversity: the ability for students to live in seven different cosmopolitan cities around the world. During their four-year course, students spend their first full year in San Francisco, USA, and the remaining three years in six other enticing destinations: Seoul, Hyderabad, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, and Taipei.

Needless to say, the pandemic presents many obstacles. When I raise the issue of travel restrictions and the movement of people to El-Azar, she reassures me that regarding the academic aspect of the program, “nothing will change”. However, as the situation with the virus varies in each country, she says the students’ living situation will be continuously monitored. If he can’t study in all seven cities, Minerva plans to implement the experiential learning portion of his online course.

But what form will it take? The multicultural life experience that Minerva offers its students seems to be an integral part of the whole ethos of the university, and as such, the continuity of the offer would be crucial for its continued success. For Bowler, this is decisive: “My academics are definitely enriched by applying them to immersion in the city. The global rotation gives us a broader global perspective to better understand modern challenges from different cultural angles.

Boorman agrees: During her four years at Minerva, she says, the global immersion program shaped her understanding of the world and global issues. She tells me that in her experience, “Minerva’s overall model molds people to be much more open-minded and understanding.”

My academics are definitely enriched by applying them to city immersion

To fully understand how online learning works at Minerva, I speak with Suzanne Kern, faculty member and assistant professor of natural sciences. Kern says Minerva’s emphasis on active learning is “almost antithetical to formal teaching.” Unlike most college teaching models where lectures feel like a pity form of a one-man show presented to an unforgiving audience, it is extremely rare for a Minerva professor or student to speak more than two minutes for A class.

Pedagogically speaking, Minerva therefore makes some interesting decisions. But questions remain about the practical side of things, especially when it comes to science subjects, like Kern’s, which normally involve lab work.

“The Department of Natural Sciences,” she says, “does not emphasize physical techniques…Instead, we focus on How? ‘Or’ What people do field research.

If lockdown restrictions continue, professors, researchers and university students will all have to grapple with the issue of space – and lack of space. But those who work and study at Minerva say it’s simply a matter of shifting the focus from lab learning to research and scientific thinking.

Aside from access constraints, the biggest challenge Minerva faces due to the virus is accommodating students across a wide range of time zones, a challenge faced by many universities with diverse student populations. However, with a faculty already experienced in teaching online, it appears Minerva students have faced less disruption to their educational experience during the pandemic than most other students.

Boorman’s experience is proof of this, as she tells me that the Active Learning Forum worked for her while she was studying around the world. Her greatest strength, she says, is that when you “move to seven different cities, you need something very flexible and rigorous, and that’s what the platform offers.”

Indeed, the benefits of operating an online college have never been more apparent. Although Minerva has raised eyebrows in the past for her supposedly progressiveness and lack of physicality, in today’s surreal times it may not be something to be laughed at, but to we learn.

As for his students, they couldn’t agree more. Guarneros says, “Now is the perfect opportunity for teachers, students and institutions to reflect on this and not say, ‘Hey, let’s replace this’, but rather, ‘Hey, let’s improve this.

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