Carnegie Mellon University
November 16, 2011

Can an Academic Social Network Engage Students Across Disciplines?

Can an Academic Social Network Engage Students Across Disciplines?

Earlier this year, the social networking application Classroom Salon (CLS), co-developed by English Department professor David Kaufer, was awarded a grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges (funded by Bill and Melinda Gates) to test the application's success at engaging students in an urban university.

Starting in 2012, students and educators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will begin using the software to test whether CLS can help university students learn in various disciplines, including English, mathematics, computer science, and the social sciences. The software will be used to develop "communities of practice" with the hope that students will use CLS to continue their discussions and explorations of topics even after they leave the classroom.

CLS arose from an interdisciplinary collaboration among English Department professor David Kaufer, computer science professor Ananda Gunawardena, and School of Design professor Alexander Cheek. Inspired by the success of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, these educators created CLS as a social application that would allow students to engage in online communities where they could discuss and analyze texts as well as tap into the collective intelligence of groups.

Using the program, students perform textual analyses, annotating text as they read it and also viewing their classmates' responses to the same text. Student and educators can then use CLS to identify parts of the document that spark the most discussion, cluster similar comments, and discover which comments are most influential. In addition to exploring assigned texts, students can post their own essays in CLS to receive feedback from classmates and instructors.

"Studies show that people working in teams are able to arrive at better and more creative solutions than people working alone, and this is particularly true in reading and writing tasks. However, that collective effort is difficult to achieve in formal education settings," Kaufer said. "Class time is limited and most online course management systems tend to be driven by the instructor's questions. Classroom Salon, by contrast, makes possible more genuinely student-centered collaborative work."

CLS is currently being used by thousands of university and high school students and, recently, the creators of CLS have been in discussion with several New York publishers about the possibility of integrating Classroom Salon with educational textbooks and their related websites.

For More Information

For more information about Classroom Salon, visit

You can also watch a introductory video about Classroom Salon or the "Social Media Transforming the Classroom" video, which features three educators discussing how Classroom Salon has changed the way they teach.

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