Minerva Active Learning Forum
Education reinvented for the 21st century
The Minerva Active Learning Forum is a real-time learning environment that gives Minerva students freedom to travel the world while taking classes. (You can learn more from our book Building the Intentional University.) As a tiny team in 2012, we designed and built a seminar environment that was seamless and closely tied to Minerva’s Active Learning philosophy.
When I joined Minerva, the product team was 3 people, and there was no production software. I had the privilege of architecting and co-creating the Active Learning Forum from the beginning—including the live seminar classroom and the courses system.
The primary goals were to create a robust learning platform, backedy by cognitive science and modern pedagogy, that could easily adapt to student and faculty needs as Minerva evolved.
By 2013, we supported features like:
- In-app chat, hand raises, and quick yes/no reactions
- Deep Google Docs integration
- Breakout rooms for small group discussion and collaboration
- Live polling and ability to shape the remainder of a session based on poll results
Active Learning Forum: How we got there
To establish a vision for the product—which didn’t yet exist—we used Design Sprints (from Google Ventures) to develop our vision and roadmap for the product. After just a few of these, we had a plan that could be measured in years, not months. And we needed to make the vision a reality.
The architecture’s primary goals were:
- Use a modular architecture with flexible interfaces to let the system’s components evolve
- Balance flexibility with development speed to hit short-term milestones while driving toward Minerva’s expansive vision
- Create a seamless interface and scalable real-time interactions using the best of browser technology
Some technologies we used included:
- Websockets for real-time communication
- Redis for pub/sub functionality and caching
- Clojure for real-time parallel data processing, later replaced by Django and Django REST Framework due to ecosystem & popularity
- A hosted video provider
- Lots of complex networking for making video work in heterogenous environments
After launching the initial product, the team grew into a mature product team and has developed Minerva technology into the robust and delightful learning system that it is today.
Being Founding Engineer was satisfying because I got to wear lots of hats. Outside of product team work, I got to play a part in milestones led by other departments:
- Brand & voice creation
- Recruiting brilliant students from all over the world to Minerva through Ascent Weekend
These broad experiences were formative and exciting. They eventually pushed me to officiall make the switch to Product Management.