Minerva (2012-2019)

Nurturing critical wisdom for the sake of the world
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From 2012-2019, I worked with the amazing Minerva academic and product teams to imagine and build technologies to achieve Minerva's educational vision.

"We are intensely focused on improving the future by enhancing student potential to lead the development of innovative solutions to the most complex challenges of our time."

My work at Minerva involved designing, coding, and evaluating functional prototypes of immersive learning venues. I worked with the product team to turn validated explorations into core components of Minerva's learning environment.

Active Learning Forum: "Seminar on Steroids"

The Active Learning Forum is Minerva's core technology platform, and the Active Learning Seminar is its centerpiece. I devoted most of 2012 and 2013 to designing and prototyping the ALF, with the goal of developing a learning venue tailored for meaningful seminar discussion and targeted formative feedback. I worked with the very talented engineering team to turn these validated explorations into core components of Minerva's learning environment. I'm incredibly proud of what we've created.

What does a seminar look like on the Active Learning Forum? What does it mean to learn and teach in this classroom? While I frequently try to explain in conversation how this unusual classroom enables new forms of learning and teaching, it's much easier to communicate by showing it in action...

Two Minerva students participating in a Minerva Forum class

Screenshot of a Minerva Forum classroom, with two two students and a shared document featured and a timeline of the lesson plan displayed in a sidebar.

We devoted Chapter 15 of Building the Intentional University to discussing the Active Learning Forum in detail. Photograph of the 'Building the Intention University' book laying on a surface.

Course Builder: Technology for teams to build courses around Active Learning

I led the creation of Minerva's curriculum design technologies in 2016-2017. Unlike a "traditional" LMS, this curriculum management system is not student-facing. We decouple the tools and technologies for course design from those for teaching and learning. Chapter 16 of Building the Intentional University discusses our collaborative approach to curriculum development and the technologies that we created to support this approach.

Screenshot of a portion of the Course Builder web dashboard

Screenshot of a course syllabus being edited in Course Builder

Screenshot of a lesson plan being edited in Course Builder

Assessment tool suite: Formative feedback, in context

More recently, I designed and prototyped the first version of Minerva's technology to support formative assessment of (a.) classroom discussion contributions and (b.) homework submitted as a document, video, or website.

The classroom assessment tool was designed to provide students with structured feedback on their contributions to their classes on the Active Learning Forum. This tool makes a cameo appearance at 03:39 in the 2015 video embedded above.

Screenshot of the assessment interface for a Minerva Forum class, displaying a video recording, a timeline of events, and a HC rubric assessment interface.

I based the initial prototypes of the assessment tool for written assignments to conceptually mirror the tool for assessing classroom discussion. Assessments are still anchored in context, but "context" is now a text passage rather than a spoken comment. Other than that, the concept -- structuring formative feedback as annotations on the student's original work -- remains the same.

We devoted Chapter 17 of Building the Intentional University to discussing our approach to assessment in detail.

Degree Planner: Planning a course of study around graduation requirements

Designing a course of study (including degrees, majors, minors, and/or concentrations) that meets all of Minerva's graduation requirements is surprisingly complicated. In early 2018, I developed and launched a set of interactive web-based tools that were designed to support students and their academic advisors in exploring options and creating graduation-ready degree plans.

Screenshot of a course plan in the Degree Planner

The Degree Planner relies on recently-added (2017) Course Catalog infrastructure within Course Builder that allows the Academic Team to easily manage and publish a versioned Course Catalog in various human-readable formats (e.g. PDF, HTML) and also in a machine-readable format. By aggregating the degree plans saved across all students, the Academic Team can now more accurately quantify student interest in each course for each future term. Additionally, the ability to automatically verify that a set of courses meets the graduation requirements for a set of programs serves another useful purpose: We can now accurately and efficiently verify that a student has completed all graduation requirements for their selected programs before we issue that student a diploma.

Academic records: Generating, archiving, protecting

In 2014, I designed and built Minerva's first system for generating academic transcripts (official and unofficial) and term reports based on the formative assessments collected using the tools above. A secure student-facing Registrar system provides each student with access to their documents. The site also provides the student a link to download a comprehensive machine-readable dataset including every score and every written comment given by all of their professors at Minerva.

Book cover of 'Building the Intentional University'

Related Publications
Bader-Natal, A., Fost, J., and Genone, J. Building Lesson Plans for Twenty-First-Century Active Learning. In Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education, edited by Stephen M. Kosslyn and Ben Nelson, MIT Press, 2017.
Katzman, J., Regan, M., and Bader-Natal, A. The Active Learning Forum. In Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education, edited by Stephen M. Kosslyn and Ben Nelson, MIT Press, 2017.
Levitt, R., Bader-Natal, A., and Chandler, V. Assessing Student Learning. In Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education, edited by Stephen M. Kosslyn and Ben Nelson, MIT Press, 2017.

Related Patents

Bader-Natal et al., 2020. “System and method for a virtual conference interactive timeline”U.S. Patent 10,666,696Filed August 31, 2015Issued May 26, 2020
Bader-Natal et al., 2020. “System and method for scalable, interactive virtual conferencing”U.S. Patent 10,541,824Filed June 21, 2017Issued January 21, 2020
Bader-Natal et al., 2018. “Participation queue system and method for online video conferencing”U.S. Patent 9,935,987Filed December 12, 2016Issued April 3, 2018
Bader-Natal et al., 2017. “Apparatus, user interface, and method for authoring and managing lesson plans and course design for virtual conference learning environments”U.S. Patent Application US 15/709,364Filed September 19, 2017 • Patent Pending.
Bader-Natal et al., 2017. “System and method for tracking events and providing feedback in a virtual conference”U.S. Patent 9,674,243Filed August 31, 2015Issued June 6, 2017
Bader-Natal et al., 2017. “System and method for decision support in a virtual conference”U.S. Patent 9,578,073Filed August 31, 2015Issued February 21, 2017
Bader-Natal et al., 2018. “System and method for managing virtual conferencing breakout groups”U.S. Patent 9,961,119Filed March 31, 2015Issued May 1, 2018
Bader-Natal et al., 2019. “Registering and displaying visual attention metadata in a web video conferencing and seminar system”U.S. Patent 10,356,364Filed September 9, 2014Issued July 16, 2019