CSE and Cogntive Science professor Scott Klemmer (right) is one of the brains behind a new tool called Talkabout, developed at UC San Diego and Stanford and already deployed as part of Klemmer's massive open online course (MOOC) on human-computer interaction. Talkabout is a virtual discussion section built around Google Hangouts (which limits to nine the maximum number of participants in a Talkabout, or as few as two). Talkabout was built with Klemmer's former colleagues at Stanford, computer science professor Michael Bernstein and Ph.D. student Chinmay Kulkarni, and the project currently includes an incoming CSE M.S. student, Yasmine Kotturi (who graduates from UCSD in cognitive science this year). As originally implemented in Klemmer's first MOOC, the tool offered students the opportunity to log on any time, but students couldn't be sure that anyone else would be there at the same time.
So instead, according to a report this week in Stanford Daily, "the new system works by randomly assigning a few people to each group. There is no moderator and students encounter new peers in each discussion section." Talkabout also allows students to choose between verbal discussion or contributing by text (which is often preferred by students for whom English is a second language).
Talkabout has been used for many MOOCs. For example, CSE faculty-affiliate Terry Sejnowski recently used the tool for his Learning How to Learn MOOC on Coursera produced by the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center. (The center is directed by CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell).
An upcoming online courses set to use Talkabout for discussion groups is Learn to Mod, which teaches students how to code modifications of the wildly popular computer game, Minecraft. The instructor will be Sarah (Esper) Guthals (at right), a CSE alumna (PhD '14) and co-founder/CTO of the startup ThoughtSTEM, which develops courses, trainings, software and textbooks for children 8 to 18 to learn how to program. Guthals and ThoughtSTEM co-founder and CSE Ph.D. candidate Stephen Foster also created a video game, CodeSpells, to help teach kids programming skills. The research implementation was so successful -- attracting $164,000 from nearly 5,500 backers on Kickstarter -- that it is now under development as a full-scale commercial game by professional video game developers. Their success with CodeSpells led Guthals and Foster to develop LearnToMod software, which provides a game environment with puzzles and tutorials on how to craft "mods" in a browser, teaching how to code at the same time. That same software forms the basis of the "Learn to Mod" online course.