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Minerva CEO Details His High-Tech Plan To Disrupt Universities 106

Posted by timothy
from the many-of-them-deserve-disrupting dept.
waderoush (1271548) writes "In April 2012, former Snapfish CEO Ben Nelson provoked both praise and skepticism by announcing that he'd raised $25 million from venture firm Benchmark to start the Minerva Project, a new kind of university where students will live together but all class seminars will take place over a Google Hangouts-style video conferencing system. Two years later, there are answers – or the beginnings of answers – to many of the questions observers have raised about the project, on everything from the way the seminars will be organized to how much tuition the San Francisco-based university will charge and how its gaining accreditation. And in an interview published today, Nelson share more details about how Minerva plans to use technology to improve teaching quality. 'If a student wants football and Greek life and not doing any work for class, they have every single Ivy League university to choose from,' Nelson says. 'That is not what we provide. Similarly, there are faculty who want to do research and get in front of a lecture hall and regurgitate the same lecture they've been giving for 20 years. We have a different model,' based on extensive faculty review of video recordings of the seminars, to make sure students are picking up key concepts. Last month Minerva admitted 45 students to its founding class, and in September it expects to welcome 19 of them to its Nob Hill residence hall."
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Minerva CEO Details His High-Tech Plan To Disrupt Universities

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  • by turkeydance (1266624) on Friday April 18, 2014 @07:47PM (#46792181)
    and now this? can the NCAA and the AAUP form a strong enough political bond to thwart this freedom-thingie?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Academia squanders vast sums on quasi-professional athletics programs, and other activities that basically qualify as student entertainment, but administration is actually where all the big money gets wasted :
      https://chronicle.com/article/Administrator-Hiring-Drove-28-/144519/

      We absolutely need "start up" universities that disrupt existing universities by minimizing administrative costs, well administration almost never shrinks except by replacing the whole institution, but..

      All these new for-profit educati

  • Ivy League Schools (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brit74 (831798) on Friday April 18, 2014 @07:58PM (#46792221)

    'If a student wants football and Greek life and not doing any work for class, they have every single Ivy League university to choose from,' Nelson says.

    Yeah, I'm sure that's an accurate portrayal of Ivy League schools, and not some capitalist's attempt at devaluing the competition.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      The Ivy League was basically a formal gentleman's agreement (you know, back from the good old days where they banned women and blacks from campus and had strict quotas on Jews) that they would mutually agree to be terrible at sports in order to maintain high academic standards.

      Everyone who attends an Ivy League school to play sports is someone who would have been a serious consideration for admission without their athletic ability.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ShieldW0lf (601553)

        The Ivy League was basically a formal gentleman's agreement (you know, back from the good old days where they banned women and blacks from campus and had strict quotas on Jews) that they would mutually agree to be terrible at sports in order to maintain high academic standards.

        Everyone who attends an Ivy League school to play sports is someone who would have been a serious consideration for admission without their athletic ability.

        Of course they're going to be terrible at sports. They don't have any black people on their team!

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by DNS-and-BIND (461968)

      Oh, did that hit a little close to home? What does it say about our elites when they can't take a little (well-placed and accurate) criticism? Why are you using a word like "capitalist" as an epithet?

      A quick question: how many corrupt government officials will the Ivy League graduate this year? How many of them will go on to oppress the American people with outrageous, unworkable ideas while all the time enjoying the approval of their own consciences? The Ivy League exists to perpetrate a culture of c

      • From my essay discussing excellence vs. elitism & privilege: http://www.pdfernhout.net/post... [pdfernhout.net]
        ----
        So, the question becomes, how do we go about getting the whole world both accepted into Princeton and also with full tenured Professorships (researchy ones without teaching duties except as desired? :-) And maybe with robots to do anything people did not want to do? This is just intended as a humorous example, of course. I'm not suggesting Princeton would run the world of the future or that everyone would r

  • So people can learn real skills in a real work place settings.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because no-one would learn anything in the vast majority of businesses. Big business is too bureacratic to teach apprentices and small business is too pathetic and underfunded.

    • Because that would require real "work" and they've spent the last 15-20 years telling people that trades and apprenticeships as worthless. That's why there's such a demand for them these days.

    • by MacTO (1161105) on Friday April 18, 2014 @10:40PM (#46792869)

      In many cases what you suggest is sound. In many other cases, it is not.

      For instance, you could probably get away with an apprenticeship for computer programming. Yet you would not get away with an apprenticeship for computer science. There is too much background knowledge that must be acquired for that to be viable. Besides, universities are pretty much an apprenticeship for computer scientists once they hit graduate school. (Assuming that the student is going into research, of course.)

      Universities also serve many other functions. At least that is the case for students who are going about things in an intelligent manner. Since the goal is learning, rather than training, the student is free to think. You also have opportunities to make contact with other people in the field, may they be your peers or your instructors. This opens up both research and employment opportunities.

      That all assumes that the student is doing more than attending lectures, reading books, and completing assignments. It assumes that the student is being more than a student. One of my professors put it best when he said that he isn't the instructor and we aren't his students. Rather, we are all colleagues. Unfortunately, most of the students didn't get that.

    • Because then companies would have to pay for employees' training and education instead of letting people pay for it themselves. Didn't get overqualified enough for that internship or gain enough relevant skills on your own time and dime? No job for you, we'll just find somebody from India who did.
  • by students (763488) on Friday April 18, 2014 @08:17PM (#46792293) Homepage Journal

    Using a wide variety of teaching techniques and evaluating their quality improves education. This is essentially what Minerva is proposing. The video conferencing is incidental.

  • by khchung (462899) on Friday April 18, 2014 @09:07PM (#46792503) Journal

    Similarly, there are faculty who want to do research and get in front of a lecture hall and regurgitate the same lecture they've been giving for 20 years.

    This may sound bad (as Nelson no doubt intended) for subjects that are relatively recent, such as anything IT related, or the more advanced courses. But tell me, how much meaningful changes were there in the past 20 years for introductory subjects like algebra or calculus? Or the introductory to intermediate courses for most physical sciences?

    Go read the Feynman Lectures and tell me how much change was needed due to advances since it was given? Except for maybe a mention of Higgs and LHC somewhere?

    Education is not entertainment, if the subject matter have not changed, why should a good lecture needs to change for the sake of change? It's not like we are giving the lecture to the same audience 20 times. Except, maybe, due to the decrease in competency of the students?

    • by students (763488) on Friday April 18, 2014 @09:32PM (#46792631) Homepage Journal

      Lecturing is an ineffective way to teach because most people cannot pay attention to and retain a traditional lecture. Someone who has been giving the same lecture for 20 years was teaching sub-optimally 20 years ago and has not improved. You are correct that they may not have gotten worse either.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I enjoyed lectures when I went to college. You either had poor presenters or didn't care about the topics.

        • by students (763488)

          Perhaps you enjoyed them, but it is highly unlikely you remember them. Physiological measures of attention, such as heart rate, show students do not pay as much attention to lectures past the first few minutes.

      • However, watching a video taped lecture may be a very good way of learning. You can always pause the lecture and go back.

        • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:13AM (#46793283)
          Not as good as a real lecture where you can ask questions at the end if there's something you can't pick up from the lecture. Watching the same thing you don't understand twenty times is not going give you the same missing piece that a lecturer can give you by explaining something in a different way.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Any kind of lecture is low-rent bullshit pedagogy. Real education has students read/experience "static" material on their own time and do interactive problem solving in face-to-face time with instructors. That, however, costs money.

      • by dkf (304284)

        Lecturing is an ineffective way to teach because most people cannot pay attention to and retain a traditional lecture.

        That's why students are told to take notes. That's why students are told to study outside lectures; tutorials and — where appropriate for the course — practical sessions in labs reinforce the lecture. You don't learn by just listening to someone, but it is part of how you learn.

        • by khchung (462899)

          Lecturing is an ineffective way to teach because most people cannot pay attention to and retain a traditional lecture.

          That's why students are told to take notes. That's why students are told to study outside lectures; tutorials and — where appropriate for the course — practical sessions in labs reinforce the lecture. You don't learn by just listening to someone, but it is part of how you learn.

          THIS. Students that have problem learning from lectures most likely are treating the lecture as a movie (as the article alluded to), they expected to be passively entertained (a.k.a. spoon fed), instead of making an effort to learn actively. Then they wonder why they didn't learn anything and complained the lectures are too boring (i.e. not entertaining).

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Professor here. A few comments:

        1. There's lots of us who hate lecturing, but basically have to do it because of pressure to teach as many students at once as possible. It's difficult to organize contact with large numbers of students simultaneously in formats other than lecture.

        2. I'm not opposed to online lectures, and think they're probably the best option in some situations, or at least good supplementary options. However, are they really an improvement? People bash lectures, but unless you're lecturing

        • by students (763488)

          On the whole I agree with you - learning is hard work and expensive for both teacher and student. I have several times heard your argument that good lectures are interactive. It is equivalent to saying good lectures include things which are not lecture.

      • by khchung (462899)

        Lecturing is an ineffective way to teach because most people [nowadays] cannot pay attention to and retain a traditional lecture.

        There, corrected it for you. 20 years ago, most people in college have had no problem paying attention to lectures. YMMV.

        Someone who has been giving the same lecture for 20 years was teaching sub-optimally 20 years ago and has not improved. You are correct that they may not have gotten worse either.

        That's your prejudice showing. All the great teachers in college in the past century had no problem doing their great teaching with lectures (among other means).

        If you have trouble paying attention to lectures and learning from it, have you considered that, perhaps, you shouldn't be in college to begin with?

        • by students (763488)

          Based on physiological evidence, normal attention span is only a few minutes. I am not aware of any studies of how attention span is changing, but I doubt it is changing much. Great teachers of the past were great compared to their peers, not compared to modern techniques. And many of them did not lecture.

        • by students (763488)

          If you have trouble paying attention to lectures and learning from it, have you considered that, perhaps, you shouldn't be in college to begin with?

          This is a discriminatory attitude. Disadvantaged students (for example, those from poor families) are less able to cope with ineffective teaching. Based on controlled experiments, good teaching benefits all students, but it has a bigger benefits for those who used to be considered "not college material".

          You addressed your comments to me personally. Notice my user ID number. It has been some years since I passed all my lecture classes.

  • Research. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Friday April 18, 2014 @11:15PM (#46792981)

    I think a major point is wasted. Certain researchers fund their research by teaching. Recently I read some blog, ( I'll try to find it ), where a mathematician asked that if Calculus is replaced by video lectures, how will mathematicians find the money to continue doing their research?

    I'm not saying that we should continue to force students to listen to crappy lectures by teachers that only give lectures cause it funds their research. What I am saying is that research is often times important and we need an alternate way of funding it.

  • too risky (Score:3, Insightful)

    by semenzato (445337) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:20AM (#46793141)

    My daughter was quite interested in this for a while, but there is one serious problem: they are making a lot of changes at once, and evaluating the results will not be easy, especially with such a small sample of students who, by self-selection, are going to be anything but representative of the rest (for one thing, they are going to be big risk takers). It will take years to see how well this works, considering how difficult it already is to evaluate the quality of the education at various colleges.

    I don't know how much these considerations influenced my daughter, but she ended up picking a conventional college, partly because she applied Early Decision and got in. Minerva might have been on her list for a second round. (And yes, she is a risk taker, and not interested in Greek life or football :)

    The founders are smart people and what they say makes sense, but I know many smart people who made a lot of sense, and their startups still didn't quite work out.

  • It strikes me that at some point these coursera type systems will become solid enough that the major universities will begin issuing some sort of real credits for their completion.

    The below ignores the other aspects of university such as meeting people, and that many courses do require very hands on interaction such as a chemistry lab. While this is true it there is potentially still many courses that do avail themselves to a pure online experience.

    This then presents a few interesting things to ponder:
  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @06:20AM (#46793859) Homepage

    Minerva CEO Details His High-Tech Plan To Disrupt Univers...

    That's pretty amibitious.

  • by retroworks (652802) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @09:14AM (#46794175) Homepage Journal

    And we aren't all "sour grapes" about not getting admitted. Minerva offered free tuition to the first class of 45, which seemed like both a good deal, and appropriate given they were still going through "shakedown" (the interview by skype process was more like a high school play than a Broadway performance). There is no doubt that the model, given the time and attention these 45 kids will get, will provide for a stunning class. As does United World College, another free tuition experiment started by Armand Hammer which relies on subsidy to maintain recruiting excellence.

    What remains to be seen is whether it succeeds in creating a sustainable economic model. Yes, the USA's universities have probably overinvested their endowments in a "country club" gyms and campus accouterments. But Minerva is "pure play", the equivalent of penny stock. Will the fact that these 45 students are impressive today cause impressive students to pay tuition tomorrow, and will the lack of accouterments generate savings for the student consumer, or be siphoned into the startup costs of Minerva? Since it will probably take 10 years before any of these graduates have a chance to be recognized, they have to either produce evidence of superior education and training, or continue to make it a high value, or have to compete more seriously with a Stanford/Harvard than they had to a $0 tuition. The fact that free software attracts smart users doesn't prove your software will take significant share from Microsoft, and the fact that you get smart students to enroll in free education doesn't signify the universities charging tuition are doomed.

    If the impressive kids come out in 4 years and say the Minerva experience was "not ready for prime time" and that they wish they'd gone to college, will Minerva be able to fix the bugs in the software? By the way, my kid's going to a top Canadian university, $6K per year, and is certain to have a recognized degree in 10 years. The strong arguments Minerva makes about the true value of Harvard speak well for Kings and McGill. Twin goes to UWC, btw.

  • by GAATTC (870216) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @09:47AM (#46794259)
    I teach Biology at a small prestigious liberal arts college. My students do their real learning in the laboratories associated with each course and in their independent research projects. Their research projects often run for more than a year and include full time summer research experiences - it is an apprenticeship. This is where they learn to be Biologists and where they get the value out of the college. No amount of book learning or seminar participation can prepare them for the challenges of actually doing science. Growing living organisms, troubleshooting experimental protocols, interpreting data, and having to write and talk about their results (which are rarely 'clean') gives them the skills to make discoveries which will drive technology forward.
  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @10:35AM (#46794457)
    What we need is memory implants. That will make both the ivy league and Minerva obsolete.
  • Chem lab should be fun. Watch a video and then go mix up some chemicals. No professor present. No adult supervision.

    What could possibly go wrong?
  • how its gaining accreditation

    ... will do what?

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