Minerva: Cool Tech, Innovative Undergrad Degrees [review]

BreakingModern — Imagine this: You leave your dorm room to head to class, but instead of walking to a classroom in a building on campus, you walk through the city and camp out in the back of your favorite coffee shop. Or the common room in your dorm. Or any comfortable place with Internet access. You sign into Minerva, a revolutionary interactive online classroom that offers a top notch undergraduate degree.


Established in 2012, the Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) began offering a four-year undergraduate degree to a founding class of students who matriculated in fall of 2014.

The school offers four core majors: Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences and Computational Sciences. The faculty spends the first year teaching students about habits of the mind and foundational concepts, the kind of stuff that’s so relevant to the way the world lives and works right now.

Better still, there are no introductory lectures and all courses are small, discussion-based seminars (15-19 students) taught by a faculty member.


Interactive Classrooms

For the Minerva project to work, KGI had to create a technology platform that serves as the classroom. It lets faculty and students livestream together in a virtual classroom. What a great innovation. Because you can attend classes from anywhere, a Minerva student can choose to attend a conference in another city and still never miss a class.

Unlike a MOOC program, which combines pre-recorded online lectures with discussion forums, Minerva’s classroom technology is intensely interactive, allowing for voting, debating and instant-breakout sessions. It also captures data so that after the class is over faculty can review the recording to grade each student on the work of the day, offering near-immediate feedback on the student’s performance.

The system allows for an integrated curriculum to become a reality — different faculty members can see their students’ progress across all of their classes.

Seven Cities

In addition to the dynamic academic classroom setting, Minerva students will live in seven different cities during the course of their four years in the program. In each of these cities, the city itself becomes their campus. Students live together in a residence hall and are encouraged to use the resources of the city to enhance their experience. After their first year in San Francisco, they’ll spend their sophomore year in Berlin and Buenos Aires, their junior year in Mumbai and Hong Kong and their senior year in London and New York.

Like everything else about the educational model, Minerva’s selective admissions process is based in science. The process is designed to ensure that accepted students will be the right fit for the program. It consists of a series of research-backed assessments and an examination of the applicants’ qualities and aptitudes.

Minerva reps say they look for applicants with strong high school grades and demonstrated proficiency in at least one area. They also look for accomplishments and achievements that are evidence of creativity, leadership and initiative, ideally outside of the school setting. In lieu of test scores, essays or letters of recommendation, each applicant must take an online assessment and complete a video interview and writing sample. The founding class, which started at Minerva in fall of 2014, consists of 28 students from 14 different countries and territories.

Another major draw of the program is that students can enroll at Minerva for a fraction of the cost of traditional Ivy League institutions. Tuition, room and board all combined, Minerva students pay around $28K per year — half the cost of comparable Ivy League schools. With access to top faculty from around the world, opportunities in seven different world cities and curriculum built from the latest research in the science of learning, Minerva really is reinventing the university experience. And if these students grow to be the world leaders Minerva hopes to make them, we will all see the benefits of a Minerva education.

For BMod, I’m Becket Morgan.

All screenshots: Becket Morgan

Featured image: Agnes Scott College Library Reading Room” by James Diedrick via Flickr Creative Commons

Becket Morgan

Author: Becket Morgan

Based in central Vermont, Becket Morgan covers apps and lifestyle tech for BreakingModern. Follow her at @becketmorgan on Twitter or +Becket Morgan on G+.

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