Choose your peers wisely.
Or - why Minerva is awesome. Emma's Notes #51
Since September last year, I’m studying at Minerva University. The school is amazing for many reasons.
First of all, it’s one of the few universities in the world that is truly dedicated to teaching according to the last science of learning. Professors are recruited not to do research, but only to teach. So we are taught by people who LOVE to teach. Most of the instructors have left jobs at prestigious universities where they could have gotten tenure (the holy grail of an academic career) to work for an innovative university where they come to teach.
Then - a huge part of the program is about growing your international, and cultural competency. Every semester, we move countries. The past academic year, for example, I’ve lived in San Francisco and Seoul. In those cities, we are encouraged/made to engage with the local community by volunteering, doing small internships, and by doing research. As you might imagine - the culture in Seoul and San Francisco differ a lot. From each other and from the Netherlands as well. In the coming years, I’ll be studying in Hyderbad, Buenos Aires, London, and Berlin and then I’ll go back to San Francisco to graduate. All these cultures will shape my intellectual curriculum, but also my perspective and understanding of the world and myself.
But for me the greatest value Minerva provides me is through the community of fellow students. And this leads me to today’s topic - the importance of being mindful of who you surround yourself with. As people, we are always learning, and most of it happens subconsciously. Yes, we learn in schools. But ironically - the learning of the intended curriculum in most schools is not the most efficient learning that is happening. The most efficient form of learning is informal learning because it happens without you having to direct it. You can direct it - and I highly recommend you learn how to do so (pssst I’m building a course - I’m very excited - more soon).
At Minerva University informal learning is out of this world. We don’t have lectures. All our classes are discussions in which the professors never talk for more than 4/5 minutes continuously. We come to class to discuss and apply the things we’ve learned during the 1-3 hours of mandatory self-study we’ve done before the class. And let me emphasize mandatory. Because if you show up unprepared, you won’t be thanked for it. There is a web of nudges, rules, and social expectations making sure that everyone comes prepared:
First of all, there are quiz questions testing your knowledge, so you’ll get bad grades. Then, your (oral) participation in class gets graded. If you’re unlucky, both the quiz questions and the oral participation are graded and you get two bad grades. Now, this is not the biggest problem, because we get so many grades, for every class, that one bad day won’t hurt you really. The idea is that the grading is formative, so besides grades, we always get feedback from our professor, with or without scores.
Another big nudge, however - is that if you are veryyyyy unprepared, you will be marked absent. And Minerva is very tough on absences. You’ll have to rewatch the video of the class and write a small essay about what you learned, and how you learned it. And this is not a reflection in the form of ‘yeah it was nice and I found the discussion interesting’. No, this is actual, precise, concrete, and detailed reflection. For example, if one of the learning goals is ‘comparing and contrasting the different weak points of utilitarianism compared to other leading ethical theories’. A response could be: ‘in minute 3:24 James gave an example of how utilitarianism can be interpreted as only being interested in the monetary value of a human’s life. Then Lisa’s countered with the fact that there are also utilitarians who claim the expected life span is more important. The discussion following this, helped me understand that utilitarianism might be limiting its idea of what happiness or a ‘good life’ might be - but other ethical theories don’t offer a viable counter-example of how to quantify happiness.’
Besides that - if you miss too many classes you will fail the class. And if you fail more than one class - you will be applying to other universities very soon.
So - as you might have noticed, Minerva really wants you to participate. What’s the beautiful thing for me, however, is that it’s not just the university wanting this. The students do too.
It is not appreciated if you show up to class trying to improvise your way around your superficial understanding of the material. I’ve spoken to multiple upperclassmen that have picked classes (in later years you can choose your classes) based on the peers that were taking that class as well. They sought out the peer group they wanted because they know that in the end, you learn just as much, if not more from your classmates than you do from the professor. The culture really is - we are learning together.
I know this newsletter is one big rave about Minerva. And I know I’m very biased. This university is certainly not perfect. Like nothing ever is. But what the students all seem to get is - regardless of the formal learning structure (= the curriculum, whatever the school does or wants you to do) the backbone of all our learning is our informal learning process. It’s learning from and with your peers. So make sure you surround yourself with people you can learn from.
The idea that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with is not just a cliche. It’s actually how learning works.
Have a great weekend,