On 25 June I attended an Adobe/Times Higher forum called “Making digital literacy a pillar of education”, along with representatives from 40 or so other HE institutions.

There was no disagreement at the forum about the recent recommendation from the DCMS Select Committee that digital literacy should sit alongside the “3R’s” as a fourth pillar of education. Everyone agreed that, as the pace of technological change quickens, employers are less interested in a student’s knowledge than in their personal qualities – and in particular their ability to engage in lifelong learning. But there was no consensus on how universities can best prepare their students for life in a world in which digital technology will play an increasingly important role.

Of the institutions present at the forum, undoubtedly the most innovative approach to Education 4.0  was that adopted by the Minerva Schools. Minerva built a first-year undergraduate curriculum from scratch, but rather than base the curriculum on subject-specific knowledge they built it around 81 “habits of mind” and “foundational concepts”. Students engage in cross-contextual learning activities in small-seminar format, all of which require or exercise the use of those foundational concepts. Through these activities students pick up subject knowledge, but they are assessed on how well they satisfy the foundational concepts. 

In the first year of study the Minerva School’s students are based in San Francisco. Subsequently they spend time in Seoul, Berlin, London, Hyderabad, Bangladesh, Buenos Aires and Taipei. Sounds terrific! (And expensive…) And all of this is made possible using digital technology – it’s a fundamental enabling technology for Minerva.

Minerva Schools were able to take this approach because they were small, well resourced – and also because they were starting from scratch. It would be a huge task (probably an impossible task) for an existing university with thousands of students to change its curriculum in this way. But there might be elements of the approach that universities can adopt. It’s interesting that the Minerva project have recently opened its bespoke educational technology platform, called Forum, to partners: they claim that the platform, which was designed for use in a small-seminar format, can scale to support up to 400 students. It will be worth keeping an eye on this development. 

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia: The Greek Goddess Minerva