A Conversation with Assistant Professor Alexandra Digby

Jan 27, 2022

Written by: Savannah Casavant-Jackson, Class of 2024
Interviewed by: Leandra Pedretti, Class of 2022

When Assistant Professor Alexandra Digby first heard about Minerva from a friend, she was motivated to learn more about the new university. At the time, she was teaching at the University of Cambridge, having recently completed her Ph.D. in economic history. Minerva’s fully active learning pedagogy stood out compared to her previous experiences in higher education, which she describes as rooted in traditional teaching styles. Over the next month or so, Digby continued to think about Minerva’s innovative learning approach and discussion-based teaching platform, Forum, and when she started to look for faculty positions, she decided to apply to Minerva. After she was accepted as a faculty member in the Social Sciences College, Digby was excited to begin using Forum’s technology to increase engagement in her classroom.

Unlike other virtual meeting platforms, Forum was designed using research from the science of learning to become a superior classroom for students and teachers. By allowing professors to facilitate interactive discussions through polls, breakout groups, and simulations, Forum fosters high levels of student engagement. This fully active learning pedagogy has shown to be a more effective way for students to learn and apply knowledge compared with traditional information dissemination. Additionally, after each class, it generates participant data, such as talk time, allowing professors and students to track performance and receive feedback more efficiently.

The benefits of Forum are not only for students as Digby finds teaching at Minerva to be more enjoyable and acknowledges that her teaching has improved greatly thanks to Forum. Compared to her previous experience with lecture halls where professors disseminate information to a passive student audience, Digby finds that Minerva fosters an environment in which students can freely challenge economic ideas and concepts introduced in class. Given the diverse student body at Minerva, she encourages students to apply their broad range of perspectives and incorporate current events from their hometowns into class discussions and assignments. This has been particularly valuable in the context of evaluating different central bank and government policy responses to the economic fallout from the current pandemic.

Her advice has been heeded and Digby finds that many lively Forum discussions often continue among her students after class or her office hours are officially over. Moreover, with classes capped at 20 students, Digby appreciates being able to have meaningful conversations with all of her students during lessons. Despite her physical distance, as Digby resides in upstate New York and with students throughout the world on the global rotation, she has been able to form close relationships with students.

Digby admits that Forum may seem futuristic in a world where the traditional continues to predominate, yet her experience has been and continues to be overwhelmingly positive. A piece of advice Digby wants to pass on to her students is that although the state of the world is uncertain, they should find comfort in education as a constant source of enjoyment, “Turn the situation into a positive, focus on your studies, and keep going with your academic rigor and learning. Make that your priority despite the crazy world around you!”