Startups: Another Internet College

by mallory on November 9, 2012

techie startup

It seems the next internet-based business craze is upon us, and it’s based in higher education.  We’ve blogged about techie alternatives to traditional college before, and it looks like more and more entrepreneurs are interested in thinking outside the box when it comes to school.  Schools providing internet-based learning tools and online classes like the University of Phoenix have been around for a while, but the newest names to the game are touting bigger and better promises.

One in particular, the Minerva Project, is claiming to rival Harvard’s level of excellence and expertise in just a few short years.  Without a background in education (he comes from another tech startup – Snapfish), founder Ben Nelson could be asking for trouble.  But he seems more than confident.  In fact, in a recent article, he spoke proudly about one day sending his young daughter to Minerva.  What sets Minerva above the rest?  For one thing, the teaching process.  Lesson plans will be developed by top university professors who, it seems, will act like independent consultants to the school.  And then the actual lectures and discussions will be led by Ph. D. students.  Also, the use of technology in tracking students’ progress is a major focus.  Minerva is developing software specifically built to present how a student is doing in real time, so a teacher might be able to call on the student who needs more help in a certain area or to clarify a certain point that might have slipped through the cracks of another student.  And, of course, all of this is done via video chat on your computer.  Finally, it sounds as though the Minerva education will be exclusively focused on upper level courses though it claims to be a complete undergraduate degree.  Education will be extremely specialized; if you want to take an introductory course, you’ll need to seek it out through another online course offering system.

I’m really interested to see how this plays out.  First, can a fully online-based school really rival the likes of Harvard with its gathering of some of the highest minds in one physical place?  Can video chat replace face-to-face interaction of learning?  And will a university like this require high schoolers (and high schools) to enroll with a lot more under their belt in terms of introductory college classes?  Time will tell.

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