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The Minerva Schools and a 21st-Century Liberal Education___

---According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”[1] This describes an educational ideal that many of us hope to offer to our students. In established universities, it can be difficult to systematically implement programs that meet this ideal across departments and disciplines.

What would you do if you could start with a clean slate? At the Minerva Schools at KGI, we have that opportunity. Minerva offers four-year Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees and a Master of Science in Decision Analysis. Undergraduate students live together in San Francisco for their first year and travel in cohorts to a different city each semester throughout the following four years. Students learn in small seminars with a maximum of 19 enrolled in a class, and the learning is facilitated by the technology on our Active Learning Forum.[2] Faculty conduct classes via live video with sessions structured to facilitate student engagement. Learning outcomes feature prominently in class resources and assignment prompts, and we assess mastery on all learning outcomes using rubrics. “Transferable intellectual and practical skills” are the hallmark of a Minerva education.

Past debates about common core curricula have focused on content. What should students read and what subject areas should they master to better prepare them for the workplace, and for life? At Minerva we ask, what tools can we provide our students to broaden their thinking, encourage creativity, and refine their skills so they can become effective leaders and innovators? Minerva’s curriculum is scaffolded and starts with the Cornerstone courses. All first-year students enroll in Complex Systems, Empirical Analyses, Formal Analyses, and Multimodal Communications. A primary goal of these year-long courses is to teach students habits of mind and foundational concepts that they will use throughout their four years of study, in the classroom and beyond. The courses emphasize four core competencies: critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication, and effective interaction. Each course focuses on a set of habits and concepts, building blocks that help students become proficient in the core competencies. Students continue to be measured on their use of these habits and concepts in the upper-level curriculum. Their studies culminate in more independent work during the fourth year, which consists of student-driven tutorials and capstone projects.

Our program and the details of what we have learned in making our concept a reality are described in Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education.[3] Higher education is in crisis. It is too expensive, ineffective, and impractical for many of the world's students. But how would you reinvent it for the twenty-first century — how would you build it from the ground up? Many have speculated about changing higher education, but at Minerva we have actually created a new kind of university program. Our founders raised the funding, assembled the team, devised the curriculum and pedagogy, recruited the students, hired the faculty, and implemented a bold vision of a new and improved higher education. This book explains that vision and how it is being realized.

The Minerva curriculum focuses on "practical knowledge" (knowledge students can use to adapt to a changing world); our pedagogy is based on scientific research on learning; it uses a novel technology platform to deliver small seminars in real time; and it offers a hybrid residential model where students live together, rotating through seven cities around the world. We equip students with the cognitive tools they need to succeed in the world after graduation. The book offers readers both the story of this grand and sweeping idea and a blueprint for transforming higher education.

 

[2] To view a demonstration of our Active Learning Forum, see https://www.minerva.kgi.edu/academics/small-seminars/.

[3] Kosslyn, S.K., & Nelson, B. (Eds) (2017). Building the intentional University: Minerva and the future of higher education. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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