Thursday, August 21, 2014

Minerva and Plutarch

The Atlantic has a good piece about the Minerva Project, AKA Minerva U. I contributed a few thoughts:
“Like other things that are going on now in higher ed, Minerva brings us back to first principles,” says Harry R. Lewis, a computer-science professor who was the dean of Harvard’s undergraduate college from 1995 to 2003. What, he asks, does it mean to be educated? Perhaps the process of education is a profound one, involving all sorts of leaps in maturity that do not show up on a Kosslyn-style test of pedagogical efficiency. “I’m sure there’s a market for people who want to be more efficiently educated,” Lewis says. “But how do you improve the efficiency of growing up?” 
He warns that online-education innovations tend to be oversold. “They seem to want to re-create the School of Athens in every little hamlet on the prairie—and maybe they’ll do that,” he told me. “But part of the process of education happens not just through good pedagogy but by having students in places where they see the scholars working and plying their trades.”
He calls the “hydraulic metaphor” of education—the idea that the main task of education is to increase the flow of knowledge into the student—an “old fallacy.” As Lewis explains, “Plutarch said the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lit. Part of my worry about these Internet start-ups is that it’s not clear they’ll be any good at the fire-lighting part.”
Steve Kosslyn is a good guy and I wish him well with his efforts. I am skeptical that Minerva is the real solution to any real problem. But it is a serious effort backed by serious money, so let a thousand flowers bloom; this one may find a small ecological niche in which it can become a perennial of limited range.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose that overweening self-confidence and ambitions for conceptual dominance, when backed by solid research and big money, may get you far, and Kosslyn's copilot Ben Nelson is the epitome of all that. It would seem he'd never be other than hugely chagrined by niche status.