Minerva might be the most interesting and important higher education program in the world. The school, sponsored by Keck Graduate Institute at Claremont, offers an undergraduate program with a rigorously designed curriculum that develops knowledge and skills in about 100 foundational concepts and habits of success. Students focus on thinking critically and creatively and communicating and interacting effectively. They study and apply their learning in seven cities. The first class of world changers will graduate next month.
The school is powered by Minerva Project, a venture-backed San Francisco startup that has raised $120 million to transform higher education. Today, Minerva announced that its Forum platform will be available to other programs and serve up to 400 students simultaneously.
“Our intention has been to enable other institutions to join the revolution,” said CEO Ben Nelson. He points to three Minerva breakthroughs: cross-contextual scaffolding for the habits and concepts, fully active learning, and a personalized platform that supports compelling learning experiences and detailed feedback.
First-year Minerva students participate in four seminar classes covering analysis and communication. Students learn online and come to class ready to engage. The Forum platform supports real-time, synchronous seminars–which work equally well with a local or distant professor.
Active Learning Forum
Imagine an intimate video conference call where everyone is fully prepared and engaged. There are no back row Forum classes. Students exercise the intellectual muscles they’ll need for global contribution. Minerva students benefit from detailed feedback (based on rubrics for all 100 concepts and habits).
The first external partner, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, loved the course design and platform but told Nelson they couldn’t afford to teach 15 students at a time. The Minerva team realized that to be applicable at major universities, active learning needed to be scalable.
Starting this summer, a new version of Forum will be available for classes of up to 400 at a time. For students, it will still feel like a small seminar. They’ll see the professor, themselves, and a dozen other students. Forum will manage the movement of students from screen to screen. “Everybody thinks they are in the main room,” said Nelson.
Forum enables real-time polling (above) and helps professors create and manage breakout groups (below).
Last year students at HKUST gained access to the four Minerva Cornerstone courses during the first two years while taking additional HKUST courses in parallel. Final year students at the Minerva have the option to spend part of their fourth year at HKUST.
“Many of our nation’s schools— especially those in remote rural areas– struggle to find and keep the teachers they need,” said Dr. Mallory Dwinal. She is the Co-Founder & CEO of Oxford Day Academy. Her new venture, Oxford Teachers Academy, will use Forum to develop prepare teachers in remote settings.
“Minerva Forum uniquely allows people who are physically distant to experience learning as if they are in the same classroom,” said Dwinal.
Unlike traditional online classes, Forum “builds a networked community to create a shared experience amongst learners no matter where in the world they might be,” added Dwinal.
“Oxford Teachers Academy,” explained Dwinal, “will transform afterschool programs like 4-H or the Boys & Girls Club anywhere in America into micro-universities that develop local childcare workers into high quality, credentialed teachers for their community’s vacant classrooms.”
Adults in rural communities that lack access to higher education or high-skill professional training
A very different platform partner is SRM Amaravati, a university campus being developed in a new city east of Hyderabad India. Vice Chancellor Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, formerly of Copper Union, Tufts and Dartmouth, reached out to Minerva to co-design a next-generation general education program.
Forum courses will help first-year students at SRM Amaravati develop the frameworks of thinking and communication that have been so successful at Minerva but with economics that work in an Indian context.
With Forum, “For the first time you can deliver better than Ivy League education at absurdly low cost,” said Nelson.
Online courses and MOOCs just repackaged the same format and just offered it with less interaction. As new Forum partners will demonstrate, “Its possible to deliver a year of undergraduate education that is vastly superior for under $5000 per student,” added Nelson.
He’s excited to offer a turnkey university solution that, for partners like Oxford Teachers Academy, will allow new degree pathways for paraprofessionals that can work, learn, and earn a degree and certification.
Forum supports models with co-located learner cohorts and professors at a distance (the Minerva model) or fully distributed learners and professors (the OTA model).
Expanding Minerva Forum for classes with up to 400 students is an important milestone for the Minerva Project. It will allow institutions worldwide to reshape their offerings and extend their access. Like OTA, entirely new institutions will be formed with great services at affordable price points.
Watch for stories of world-changing Minerva graduates. And now, with partner schools, the Minerva Project will help create an army of changemakers.
For more, see:
- Minerva: The Intentional University
- HigherEd Reinvented: Minerva Goes Global (podcast with Ben Nelson)
- Minerva: Better & Cheaper HigherEd (2014, the origin story)
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This post was originally published on Forbes.