Zoom-fatigue and mental health concerns
Minerva’s students learn through participation in robust discussion as opposed to rote memorization of lectures, and their progress is tracked robustly as well—all of their actions are coded.
Given the widely known truth of deteriorating mental health on college campuses across the nation over the course of the pandemic, it’s natural to assume that this kind of learning environment may prove to be emotionally draining for some who are fighting their own battles outside the classroom.
Even a mentally healthy student has surely experienced some form of the anxiety or Zoom-fatigue that many report due to the various online learning surveillance methods that have emerged. I asked Nelson how off-days are accounted for—when a student isn’t feeling in the right headspace to engage at such a high level.
“That’s the beauty of having a formative feedback system that generates summative outcomes as opposed to tests without feedback. I keep telling our students this even though they don’t believe me, but I try to prove it to them: Algorithmically, almost nothing they do in their first year matters. It matters from a learning perspective, but not from a grade perspective,” he explains.
Students’ learnings from the first year are assessed over the next three years and continually applied throughout the program. The weighting of their assignments and classes becomes more substantial over time. “So if you have a bad day in class, getting the feedback is not going to be great, but you learn from it. A bad day is not gonna throw you off,” he says.
This formative feedback system transcends the linear grading scale so that depth of mastery need not be defined numerically. That is to say, it does away with the notion that a 92 is good but an 89 is not so good.
The primary benefit of the Minerva process is the breadth of application. When you take a cognitive tool and apply it to different contexts, apply it prompted versus spontaneously, or critique somebody else’s work against your own, those are dimensions of transfer that indicate whether you’ve actually learned something.
“And as far as I know,” concludes Nelson, “we’re the only educational institution in history that has ever employed that kind of tactic.”