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In the news: Classroom Salon

Classroom Salon is a software application from faculty researchers and developers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). It is described as a "new way to build a community around digital media." The name conjures images of historical salons in which the elite social classes gathered to engage in conversation about literature, philosophy, and the arts. These salons began as a way to learn and share ideas that were radical and subject to censorship in the 17th and 18th centuries, and played a role in the emergence of more public and democratic forums.

Today's Classroom Salon, a project that began as a graduate student's thesis, is a fully operating system that brings a unique social networking approach to conversation in formal academic courses. This system is text-centric and designed to engage students in the reading associated with their courses. This engagement is not only with the assigned materials, but also with each other in a social learning environment. Digital versions of course texts (books, articles, and other materials) are presented within the Classroom Salon system, providing students with opportunities to both read and annotate the texts. Through their comments and highlighting, conversations and learning communities emerge in which student participants share their work in groups. View a demo of the system online [video].

Promising Features

Developed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty members and researchers in the fields of computer science, English, and design, this project's approach offers new ways to host, foster, and monitor class discussions online.

  • Hot-spots: The Classroom Salon platform allows for a non-linear display of student comments and identifies "hot-spots," passages identified as important by multiple readers, based on interactions and annotations. This is different from the chronological conversation feeds you might find on Facebook walls, in Twitter streams, and on blog posts.
  • Data collection and analysis: Sorting and filtering functions allow instructors to create visualizations of how students interact with each other and the text. They can look for patterns across student users and monitor comprehension of the texts and course topics.
  • Reading-based: Encouraging students to complete course reading assignments is always a challenge. This system is social, collaborative, and can be used to solve problems and debate ideas, but it is focused on reading materials, bringing attention to a specific component of a formal course that can be tempting for students to overlook.
  • Blended approach: Several of the documented implementations of Classroom Salon describe a blended learning approach in which students and instructors interact both face-to-face and online. This system provides an enhanced online discussion format that can be used for pre-class activities in a traditional course.

Current Projects

Classroom Salon is finding a home in many areas of education, including higher education, secondary levels and middle schools, as well as with special student populations:

  • At-risk students: A new project at the University of Baltimore, in partnership with CMU, will deploy Classroom Salon with students that are at risk of failing or dropping out of introductory level college courses. This program was recently awarded a grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges program.
  • School districts: High schools in Pennsylvania are using Classroom Salon and efforts are underway to bring the tool to middle school students as well.
  • International learners: CMU recently introduced Classroom Salon to educators in Qatar. Ananda Gunawardena, one of the CMU project leaders and the workshop presenter in Qatar, emphasized the benefits of using a social learning system that can assist "with both the English reading comprehension as well as the understanding of technical content as interpreted by a group of people."

What Instructors are Saying

Three instructors were interviewed about their use of Classroom Salon with students in high school and higher education. You can view these CMU video interviews online. Here are a few of the observations that may resonate with potential users:

  • It has use in multiple disciplines from writing and math to art and special education.
  • It helps students prepare for class, making more efficient use of limited face-to-face time with the instructor in a blended environment and allowing for the development of deeper thinking and conversations.
  • Connections are possible across courses, districts, and departments for extended collaboration.
  • Students become more visible as individual class participants and their work becomes more visible to their peers as well.

How might this new tool work in your courses? What benefits or challenges would you anticipate as an online student or instructor?

Stay Tuned

While access accounts for Classroom Salon are free, they are currently available for academic institutions only. Check with your school to find out more about the potential use of this tool in your classroom.

The Sloan Consortium is offering a free webinar on September 28, 2011 (next week!) entitled "Classroom Salon – An Innovative Educational Platform to Support Social Learning." This session will be presented by Ananda Gunawardena from CMU. Visit the Sloan-C website for more information and to register.