Talkabout: Making Distance Matter with Small Groups in Massive Classes

Chinmay Kulkarni, Julia Cambre, Yasmine Kotturi, Michael S. Bernstein, Scott Klemmer
CSCW: ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 2015
Massive online classes are global and diverse. How can we harness this diversity to improve engagement and learning? Currently, though enrollments are high, students’ interactions with each other are minimal: most are alone together. This isolation is particularly disappointing given that a global community is a major draw of online classes. This paper illustrates the potential of leveraging geographic diversity in massive online classes. We connect students from around the world through small-group video discussions. Our peer discussion system, Talkabout, has connected over 5,000 students in fourteen online classes. Three studies with 2,670 students from two classes found that globally diverse discussions boost student performance and engagement: the more geographically diverse the discussion group, the better the students performed on later quizzes. Through this work, we challenge the view that online classes are useful only when in-person classes are unavailable. Instead, we demonstrate how diverse online classrooms can create benefits that are largely unavailable in a traditional classroom.