How the Minerva Project Works

Student Life at Minerva

A student takes a class from the comfort of his room, using Minerva's proprietary online platform.
A student takes a class from the comfort of his room, using Minerva's proprietary online platform.
Shaul Schwarz/Reportage by Getty Images

First, forget the quintessential image of grassy quads, stately brick buildings and ivy-covered walls. Minerva skips all the trappings of the traditional college experience, including sports teams, fraternities, sororities, and even libraries, dining halls and student hubs. Sticking to only the most basic amenities not only saves money, but also keeps the focus on the curriculum and makes it easy to set up a Minerva location almost anywhere [sources: Kaminski, Minerva,Wood].

With classes taking place online, you might expect Minerva students to simply attend school from wherever they live, anywhere in the world. But that isn't the case. Minerva may have abandoned the traditional concept of a college campus, but Minerva students live together in a shared residence hall and are encouraged to gather for class excursions and field trips as well as social and cultural activities available in the city. The school curriculum emphasizes "global immersion," with students spending their first year in San Francisco and then changing locations every semester to experience a range of cultures and languages in different cosmopolitan centers. The locations were not yet finalized as of October 2014, but possibilities include Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Berlin, London, Cape Town, Mumbai, New York and Sydney.

Unlike their students, Minerva professors may live anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection, a decision that Minerva says will help to attract and retain top faculty, as well as allow a single professor to teach classes in multiple locations [source: Wood].

All classes are limited to 19 students plus one instructor. Unlike massive open online courses (MOOCs), in which students often watch recorded lectures, or asynchronous online courses, in which an instructor posts assignments or questions for students to answer at a later time, Minerva's online classes take place in real time and are geared toward intensive discussion between instructor and students. The school's proprietary online platform – think of it as a sophisticated video chat – allows the instructor to communicate with the whole group at once, break students into smaller work groups or see how individual students are responding to the course material [sources: Minerva, Wood]

Atlantic magazine writer Graeme Wood was allowed to test-drive a course taught by French physicist Eric Bonabeau who split the all-video class into groups to defend opposite propositions. "No one needed to shuffle seats; Bonabeau just pushed a button, and the students in the other group vanished from my screen, leaving my three fellow debaters and me to plan, using a shared bulletin board on which we could record our ideas," wrote Wood. He found the continuous engagement fascinating but "exhausting."