Carnegie Mellon University
June 19, 2015

Classroom Salon To Help Boost Capacity of Computer Science Course

By Shilo Rea

Classroom Salon To Help Boost Capacity of Computer Science Course

Classroom Salon, the social networking tool that taps the collective intelligence of online study groups, will be used as part of a multi-year, Google-funded project to boost the capacity of a popular Carnegie Mellon University introductory computer science course.

The approach will not simply put lectures and course work online, as is typical of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Co-created by CMU English Professor David Kaufer and former CMU Computer Science Professor Ananda Gunawardena, Classroom Salon will compliment a blended learning approach that largely replaces formal lectures with videos and optional mini-lectures. Classroom Salon identifies concepts that need to be reinforced by instructors in small group meetings with students.

The overall idea behind the project is to find a way to leverage existing faculty to meet a growing demand for computer science courses, while also expanding the opportunities for underrepresented minorities, high school students and community college students.

“As we teach a wider diversity of students, with different backgrounds, we can no longer teach to ‘the middle,’” said Jacobo Carrasquel, associate teaching professor of computer science. “When you do that, you’re not aiming at the 20 percent of the top students or the 20 percent at the bottom.”

By devoting less time to lectures and by using Classroom Salon to identify groups of students with common instructional needs, it should be possible for existing instructors to target the needs of students across the entire spectrum of capabilities.

Carrasquel will begin this fall to add the new elements to his Data Structures and Algorithms course, which attracts non-computer science majors from across the CMU campus. The changes will be fully implemented in the course next spring.

Kaufer is excited to see Classroom Salon, which has been used by tens of thousands of students, as a part of the project, a prime example of the work being done through Carnegie Mellon’s Simon Initiative. Named for the late Nobel and Turing Award laureate Herbert Simon, the Simon Initiative harnesses a cross-disciplinary ecosystem of learning science that has developed over several decades at CMU, with the goal of measurably improving student learning outcomes.

“Classroom Salon has evolved incrementally based on user feedback to provide ever greater support for student learning in the classroom,” Kaufer said. “The next phase of development, both for computer science courses and classes in the humanities, will allow for a ‘monitor’ function so that teaching assistants and selected students can present summaries of the classroom interaction over a text or video they’ve been asked to read or watch.”

Read more about the Google-funded blended learning project

Learn more about Classroom Salon