Minerva Project Wins Leading Stanford Scholar

Minerva Project Wins Leading Stanford Scholar

Stephen Kosslyn joins startup university as Founding Dean

By Tony Wan     Mar 12, 2013

Minerva Project  Wins Leading Stanford Scholar

The Minerva Project, which made headlines and raised eyebrows in higher education with a $25 million seed round from Benchmark Capital last year, has appointed Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn as the Founding Dean of the university.

Over the past three decades, Kosslyn has held positions at prestigious institutions around the country--most recently as director of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavior Sciences at Stanford University. He was previously at Harvard, where he served as a professor of psychology and dean of social sciences, and prior to that the chair of the department of psychology. (And the list goes on.)

Both Kosslyn and Minerva's founder and CEO, Ben Nelson, told EdSurge that they are excited about applying Kosslyn's extensive research in the science of learning, motivation, and cognition to a "blank slate" on which the collegiate experience can be re-imagined and realized.

"This is a dream opportunity to create a university of the 21st century that takes advantage of what we know about the science of learning and motivation...[and] to integrate technology in a sensible way into a novel curriculum. It's really a chance to get it right without the constraints faced by most universities," says Kosslyn.

Minerva is, in some ways, an even more audacious experiment than a free MOOC because it's aiming right at the heart of the elite university experience. To be successful, it must not only attract great faculty but top students willing to take a gamble on an unproven model. What's more, Nelson will likely have to raise another hefty round of financing to get it off the ground.

Here's what we know of Minerva's plan so far:

Slated to open in September 2015, Minerva aims to start with five colleges. As dean, Kosslyn will oversee the staffing and programming for four colleges, namely Natural Science, Social Science, Arts and Humanities, and Computational Science. Each college will begin with three to five concentrated majors. Each major will have 12 required courses. (Details about the fifth college, a business school, will be forthcoming.)

The first class of students will begin in San Francisco for their first year. In subsequent years, students will have the option to rack up frequent flyer miles as they move to different campuses around the world. There will be campuses in seven cities, each staffed with Minerva faculty and offering different co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. (Paris might be the destination for those interested in art history; New York or London for the finance-inclined.) By the end of their four years "at" Minerva, students will have had the opportunity to live in seven different cities. It's all part of Minerva's goal of providing students a real-world context for their intellectual development and immersion in different cultures, worldviews and perspectives.

First-years will take introductory "cornerstone" courses that focus on mastering certain methods, basic concepts, critical thinking and analytical abilities. As part of these classes, students will also get a sampling of courses from all five colleges to better understand the research methods and applications required by each field. Nelson offered as one example a critical analysis course that would use unstructured data from a dozen different sets and disciplines to help students understand and master data analysis for different contexts. Students will pick their major during the middle of their second year, and wrap up their studies with a senior capstone project.

Every course will be delivered via a flipped model where students are expected to do readings and videos prior to joining a Minerva professor for a real-time, online seminar capped at 25 students. Courses are expected to meet four hours a week. And it won't be a walk in the park, as students will be expected to work "at least 60 hours a week," estimates Kosslyn.

No doubt, these early details on Minerva's program will much food for fodder, especially for those seeking to categorize Minerva in relationship to MOOCs like Coursera, Udacity and edX. Is it a hybrid between traditional colleges and MOOCs? Or an in-between? (Will our understanding and definition of a MOOC still be the same by the time Minerva opens in 2015?)

Clearly Minerva is utilizing technology for real-time, distance learning to deliver instruction within the structures of a pre-defined curriculum and off-campus experience. And for "less than half of the tuition of Ivy Leagues," boasts Nelson.

He adds: "We are creating a formal and an informal education that is second to none. One that takes advantage of the best of both worlds--formally, where students are intellectually developed on an individual basis, and informally where students have the resources of the world at their feet.”

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