Rutgers community discusses new college models


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Photo by Marielle Sumergido |

While the traditional model for colleges involves large lecture halls and in-person meetings, new schools are experimenting with digital classrooms. This new model is easier for some students, but others prefer meeting their instructors.


A new type of college is emerging, one where classrooms are digital and facilities are a thing of the past.

Rutgers may or may not be far from a realistic path in this direction, but San Francisco-based Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute is shaping the future of undergraduate studies with this new type of learning platform.

“Minerva isn’t an online school, it’s very much like a blended learning model,” said Michael Lai, student outreach lead for the Minerva Project. “Classes are taught on this learning platform that we’ve built — they’re all seminar based. They’re all small, interactive, live courses. I kind of describe them as like Skype-on-steroids.”

Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute was established in 2012 and offers four-year undergraduate degrees in five accredited majors — Arts & Humanities, Computational Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and Business, according to the Minerva Schools' website.

Minerva was created on the concept of building an entirely new institution to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century. One of the premises, Lai said, is looking at the history of higher education and the changes implemented through new institutions.

“Like Johns Hopkins University in the 1880s — they pioneered this new model, which was a research university merged with an undergraduate college,” Lai said. “Before that, that didn’t really exist ... After Johns Hopkins started up, the Ivy League and other traditional universities started to say, 'That’s an interesting model, let’s merge in that direction.'"

Minerva seeks to inspire a similar revolution, he said.

While there are benefits to the new learning platform of smaller, hyper-interactive seminars, trade-offs also exist, he said.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if there weren’t an overall net positive, but one of the trade-offs we make, for example, is around the lectures. We have this hardline policy that lectures are a bad way to teach, and so we do away with lectures, and all classes are taught in hyper-interactive, seminar way,” he said.

Inspiring lectures, a staple of Lai's college experience, will be lost, supplanted by Minerva's hybrid system, he said.

Debbie Cho, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she believes the platform's success will depend on the individual university.

“Personally, I know we all have different learning styles, but I think doing great Skype-like sessions would be difficult because Rutgers is just so big,” Cho said.

Cho does not believe she would enjoy being taught through the Minerva learning platform because she learns best knowing there will be someone physically there to guide and instruct.

While it might not be the best situation personally, Cho said a hybrid class of the traditional classroom and Skype-based seminars could be successful at the University.

“Giving students that face-to-face education and then doing a Skype session, where students can be a little more independent, might work in my opinion,” she said.

Rosalyn Shlafman, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she thinks there are countless pros and cons to the Minerva learning platform.

“It would definitely wipe out the problem with buses and the struggle for commuters, but it would also seriously contradict everything Rutgers is doing now with all the new construction,” Shlafman said. “College might be 'easier' ... but it would also take away all the fun from the experience.”

Shlafman's brother currently takes a chemistry recitation over Skype and has expressed mixed reactions to the learning process. It makes it harder to ask questions, but also easier because anyone can watch either of the two Skype recitations or even record them, she said.

While she has not heard of Minerva, she said all schools should move a portion of their classes online.

The learning pedagogy might not work for all students, but Lai said there is never five minutes that go by in class at Minerva where the student is zoning out or not engaged.

“Every class is fully active, there’s constant discussion, there’s debates, there’s ways to constantly engage students, and so it’s not passive at all,” he said.

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Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.


Samantha Karas

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