Minerva Active Learning Forum
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.
I had the privilege of architecting the Active Learning Forum system from the beginning, including the live seminar classroom and the asynchronous learning platform (courses system). I built the initial production application with a fellow engineer, onboarding team members as the team grew.
We used regular design sprints to come up with new ideas for the platform, and we had big hopes for it. Some goals that we accomplished:
- Balance flexibility with speed to support rapid iteration—without losing quality
- Use modularity and clean interfaces to keep the mental model as simple as possible and to allow parts to evolve independently
- Limit complexity so that onboarding new team members is as easy as possible
- Use the best of browser technology to allow a seamless user interface with real-time interactions
- Constantly dogfood the software to ensure quality is high and that we experience the platform like our students will
Some technologies we used included:
- Clojure/Compojure, and then Django REST Framework, as the REST API servers
- A simple Postgres database
- Redis pub/sub—in conjunction with asynchronous Clojure and Websockets—for all real-time interactions
- A hosted video provider
After 2012, the team and product grew immensely, and together we built build a remarkable, robust, seamless system to enable learning at Minerva.