David Brooks mentions it. InsideHigherEd describes it.
While MOOCs are basically supersized lectures offered to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of students, Minerva wants to use learning analytics to scale up Oxbridge-style tutorials to seminar-size online classes taught by professors who can work remotely from any location in the world.
…This, Nelson says, will avoid the limitation of the in-person lecture — namely that whatever is said just “vanishes into thin air.”
Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.
This sounds interesting. I was hoping to create a virtual seminar when Nick Schulz and I used Google+ hangouts. Here is where we discussed Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart.
I liked the seminars when I was at Swarthmore College. Each week the seminar met, one or two students would be assigned to write short papers to be the center of discussion. For example, I once was assigned a paper on the “cobweb model,” in which farmers base next year’s output on this year’s price. After much painful thinking, I denounced this model as irrational. On my own, I located John Muth’s paper, but I could not follow the math. What I came up with on my own instead was essentially the hypothesis of perfect foresight. It turned out, unbeknownst to me, that right at that time the topic of “rational expectations” was about to take the economics profession by storm.
The other characteristic of Swarthmore that I also have championed is the outside examiner. That is, the professor who puts together the syllabus and leads the class is not the same as the professor who puts together the assessment and grades the students.
I hope Minerva is successful with the idea of virtual seminars. I think that the risk is that it is positioned in a sort of no-man’s land, in between the backward model of existing universities and some more radical model of self-directed education that will emerge over the next decade. On the latter, look at these Unschooling Conferences, such as the Trailblazer gathering. Right now, these conferences signal the participant’s weirdness (as Bryan Caplan would predict), but if that should tip….
Chris Peterson is a Minerva skeptic.
If Minerva has higher standards then Harvard, than how is a student who can’t get into Harvard supposed to get into Minerva?
Read the entire rant. I, too, am skeptical. I remember Chris Whittle’s big education venture, called The Edison Project. It was pretty much all hat and no cattle, as they say in Texas. I was wary when he hired Benno Schmidt of Yale for a lot of money. I think if you are going to be an outside force disrupting education, you need to be an outside force. Somebody who has achieved prestige in the existing system is less likely to have the drive and originality to change it.
If I had a lot of VC money to do a project to execute a higher education start-up, I would consult with creative, unhappy professors at low-prestige places to mine their ideas. That said, I would not put them onto the management team. Unhappy people are unhappy people, so I would go with a non-academic management team to keep things sane. You can get inspiration from crazy, unhappy people, but they don’t do well in organizations.
Speaking of organizations, Henry Brighous writes,
While Fisman and Sullivan don’t really comment on this – they simply go on to describe the other kinds of coordination that AA undertakes – it’s hard for me to see how firing an employee simply for explaining how the internal process works to good effect could be efficient. It doesn’t provide any clear, useful incentives to improve overall efficiency. Nor is it conducive to a happy and productive employee culture. The simplest explanation is that Mr. X got fired because his bosses were self-aggrandizing *****s, who saw any public commentary as potential insubordination to be ruthlessly punished, even if this made for a more dysfunctional organization.
To get the context, you have to read the post, and perhaps read the book that he is discussing.
I remember when a project manager at Freddie Mac organized a session where team members could air their gripes. When she had heard all of the complaints about the stupidity and disorganization of the higher-ups, she said told the group that they should be happy that Freddie Mac wasn’t perfect, because if it was already perfect none of them would have jobs.
Indeed, one way to think of an organization is as a mountain of dysfunction. The job of managers at all levels is to try to chip away at that dysfunction. Maybe Henry is correct that Mr. X got fired because his bosses were jerks, but maybe Mr. X got fired because instead of chipping away at the dysfunction, he was contributing to it. I am not saying that I think he should have been fired. I have no idea. Corporate soap opera is complicated.