Minerva Advancing, Plans To Offer Twist On Online Education

A new university will offer a twist on the learn-from-anywhere model through the convenience of internet classes.

Starting this fall, the first class applications for Minerva Schools of KGI, a radically experimental university in San Francisco, will be sifted through. The school is an alliance between Keck Graduate Institute, one of California's Claremont colleges and Minerva Project, a venture-backed for-profit company.

According to the Chicago Tribune, through Benchmark, a leading venture-capital firm, Minerva has raised $25 million to fund its unique plan.

"Technology can be used in a much more effective way in higher education than has previously been the case," said Stephen Kosslyn, Minerva's founding dean and the former dean of social sciences at Harvard.

Deviating from the "anywhere, anytime" model prevalent in online education, first-year students must live in a residence hall in San Francisco and take classes together in real time, although all classes will be held online.

"We are entirely focused on active learning," said Kosslyn.

In addition, he said students must complete assignments that will then require vigorous participation during the online session such as engaging in a debate, presenting their own work, or critiquing that of others, before each class.

Partly for the faculty to track and measure growth in rhetoric and other skills, courses will be recorded. Grades will reflect progress in those skills over the years as final grades for those first-year classes will not come until just before graduation.

Although they will have to pay $19,000 annually for room and board, the first class of students will be rewarded with free tuition for all four years.

Variations on policies that have largely fallen out of favor elsewhere, such as putting all first-year students through the same core classes instead of allowing electives, will make Minerva different. In their first year, Minerva students will take four classes designed to teach communication, critical analysis, creative thinking and collaboration.

Since hiring Kosslyn in March last year, the university has been developing its curriculum. The systematic development of skills such as critical thinking will do more to create leaders and innovators than the haphazard approach that characterizes traditional universities as Minerva Project's chairman, former Snapfish president Ben Nelson, believes.

The formal analysis class that all freshmen will take was honed by Kosslyn and Eric Bonabeau, dean of computational sciences, in a meeting last month. Statistics, mathematics and business – including topics such as financial statements — will be included in the class. Students will be simultaneously trained by Bonabeau in various foundational skills such as negotiation and the ability to quickly summon counterexamples or check the plausibility of assumptions.

"Basically, you have a bullshit detector Minerva is building for you," Bonabeau said.

Students will select traditional majors ("concentrations") in fields such as economics, philosophy and computer science after the first year.

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