Classroom Salon


Classroom Salon is a social learning environment that builds a community of readers from individual contributions. Moderators upload long-form texts (e.g., news reporting, a chapter of literature for homework, or more technical or scientific content) and readers read and annotate individually. They’re also prompted with questions that relate to the text as a whole. All of this contribution is aggregated to produce a variety of visualizations, summaries, and statistics to help the knowledge worker get an immediate understanding of community perceptions on global and local levels. In 2015, there were more than 20,000 registered users.

Classroom Salon is a project of Carnegie Mellon University and has received funding by Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation, Heinz Endowment, and Innovation Works. Patents pending.

















Roles: Human-centered design research, conceptual development, planning and prototyping, user interface design, usability studies, natural language processing, development team oversight, and research grants.

Titles: Co-Founder, Lead Design Researcher, Information and Interaction Designer (2007 – 2016)

Collaborators: David Kaufer (English), Ananda Gunawardena (Computer Science), Joanna Wolfe (English), and Jacobo Carrasquel (Computer Science).

Classroom Salon’s tools and visualizations were designed for individual study and group learning. In the classroom, instructors project student work and Classroom Salon as a tool to drive discussion. This reduces cognitive load on students and the instructor, building discussion groups far faster than traditional discourse environments.

↑ Prototype Splash Screen, 2008

↑ Analyze the contributions at the text-level and continue the discourse through threaded commenting. Filter the results on the right and see comment similarity.


↑ Clicking through the right-hand panels to reveal other types of visualizations and tools.

A Tom Friedman article was sorted and studied for the political leaning of its readers. The results were produced with natural language processing (LSA) of DocuScope, a tool developed by co-founder David Kaufer, Professor of English and Rhetoric.


A refreshed user interface was developed in 2014 to match more modern web standards and prepare for a possible tablet and mobile launch. Research with our users revealed a desire for a more visually rich interface and easier ways to discover new content.

The 2014 redesign introduced an early iteration of the activity monitor to help members better understand their participation level with the media, heightening transparency for students in blended classrooms.


CS121 Salon was a fork of Classroom Salon with a pre-packaged course curriculum. The aim of this project, funded through a Google Focused Research Award, was to disseminate and scale an introductory computer science classroom that, unlike massive open online courses (MOOCs), maintained a “half-human” component. The digital platform facilitated the interactions of student groups, students and course assistants, and interactions with the instructor.


Visual dashboards were designed for instructors to monitor student progress and performance, allowing them to assist struggling participants, a persistent oversight by MOOC platforms.

Process + Research


↑ Early Sketches and Wireframes, 2007

Preliminary research methods conducted from 2007 to 2009 included literature reviews, paper prototyping sessions, wireframing and interactive wireframing, interviews and directed storytelling, all of which led to early stage development work led by Ananda Gunawardena, David Kaufer, and myself with a team of undergraduate information systems students led by Raja Sooriamurthi.

From 2009 to 2010, development work was carried forward by Aaron Tan. All design research and proposals were directed and developed by myself while project management and execution was led by Ananda Gunawardena.

Alexander R. Wilcox Cheek
Copyright 2017