Need-to-Know News: Minerva’s Model, MOOC Students Reveal Why they Quit and More

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series I share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 9.01.58 PMNot to disappoint, last week the education sector provided numerous stories worthy of review—I’ll highlight the key themes for readers in this post. One development worth watching is Minerva, a want-to-be Ivy League Online School that is moving forward with a new model for learning. And with MOOCs, never a dull week—I’ll share the top stories here. For those looking for professional development opportunities, I’ve include two upcoming [online] events to consider attending.

Minerva University
I first read about Minerva in 2011 and was intrigued. At the time it sounded viable and interesting—a university that planned to offer rigorous course work through online course work and experiential learning in International locations with small cohorts of students. Yet that was before the MOOC movement, and now looking closer it appears to be an expensive and perhaps even elitist education for select students that must meet stringent, if not unreasonable entrance criteria.

I don’t want to discredit the program completely as it does offer a novel approach to higher education, which is what we need more of – innovative ideas for educating students. As we speak, the school is assembling an impressive team, evidenced by the recent hire, Stephen Kosslyn from Stanford, appointed as Minerva’s Founding Academic Dean. Apparently, Kosslyn’s also in recruiting mode (Rivard, 2013).  Yet there are a few red flags.  One is the selection criteria for students, which according to Minerva’s founder Ben Nelson [former executive of Snapfish], will be gifted students that will need to pass, “psychometric tests to try to find students who are self-confident leaders, and intellectually and emotionally mature”.  This strikes me as odd—how many 18 year-old teenagers do you know that are intellectually mature? Another concern, students will be traveling globally during their studies, which makes me think that some parents might be concerned about their teenager’s health, safety and well-being as they globe trot around the world, and some kids might not be able to adapt.

We’ll see what happens, this for profit venture has already raised $25 million, but apparently needs millions more.  I am a tad skeptical of the viability of Minerva, but what it does do is challenge the model of higher education, which David Brooks from the New York Times suggests is a good thing, The best part of the rise of online education is that it forces us to ask: What is a university for? (2013).


1) US MOOC platforms openness questioned.  A professor at UK’s Open University states that platforms edX and Coursera do not meet the criteria of openness as students need to register first with the platform, then enroll in courses they want to take. A valid point. Though free, Coursera and edX cannot be viewed without creating an account which is counter intuitive to the concept of open.

2) Essay Grading Software Gives Professors a Break. edX, the MOOC platform of Harvard and MIT plans to introduce essay grading software for several courses. It’s the robo-grader that will grade students written work. Automated grading perhaps has its place, but I’m not sure if MOOCs are the place given the trajectory that MOOCs are on within higher education.

3) Top ten reasons why MOOC students drop. Though an unscientific one, Open Culture conducted a survey among MOOC students, and even with 50 responses, the feedback is most insightful.

Top Ten Reasons Students Didn’t Finish MOOC:

  1. Takes too Much Time
  2. Assumes Too Much Knowledge
  3. Too Basic
  4. Lecture Fatigue
  5. Poor Course Design
  6. Clunky Community/Communication Tools
  7. Bad Peer Review & Trolls
  8. Surprised by Hidden Costs
  9. Shopping Around
  10. Want to Learn,  Nor for Credential

Professional Development

This week should bring more exciting news. Stay tuned. I’ll be posting to my Twitter stream during the Sloan Symposium this week as well. Have a great week.