Can social networking save students from failing in school?

Carnegie Mellon social networking app to be put to test at University of Baltimore

Carnegie Mellon University educators have created an app inspired by social network sites like Twitter and Facebook that is designed to bring students together to improve learning.

The Classroom Salon app has been used by thousands of high school and college students this past year (see video below of some users talking about it) and will be extended to students at the University of Baltimore this year in an effort to see if it can help prevent students from failing introductory courses and eventually dropping out of school.

Classroom Salon is currently available for use by invitation only, but you can see on the site examples of how it works. Social networking mechanisms are employed to give users of the system the ability to comment via online anotations on assigned texts, such as a fellow student's writing. Students can then filter through the comments based on who made the comments and can be steered by color coded highlighting to parts of their writing that generated the most discussion. An example on the site shows an anotated version of President Obama's second State of the Union Address.

"Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have captured the attention of young people in a way that blogs and online discussion forums have not," said Ananda Gunawardena, associate teaching professor in the CMU Computer Science Department, in a statement (He developed CLS with David S. Kaufer, an English professor). "With Classroom Salon, we've tried to capture the sense of connectedness that makes  social media sites so appealing, but within a framework that that allows groups to explore texts deeply. So it's not just social networking for the sake of socializing but enhancing the student experience as readers and writers."

A $250K grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges program backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation will support using the app at the University of Baltimore. It will be used in conjunction with free learning resources from CMU's Open Learning Initiative.

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