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Purdue Students Hook into Facebook for Study Groups

A team at Purdue University has developed a new application that lets its students create online study groups and participate in them within Facebook. The program also lets users sync and share documents via Dropbox. Mixable was created by some of the same people who released HotSeat last year, an application that lets students text during their class and have their messages viewed by other participants in that class.

According to Kyle Bowen, director of informatics in the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing at Purdue and lead for the project, although the university uses a course management system to exchange files and collaborate, Mixable was developed to let students manage their own learning. "Courses in Blackboard are typically delivered in a top-down fashion, where the faculty drive most activities," he explained. "In contrast, Mixable grants students control of the conversation. Mixable also allows students to share their resources and discussions across courses--something that can be difficult to do with current systems."

Bowen said the team developed Mixable as a Facebook application to take advantage of the student's "native" environment. Mixable is also available from many smartphones, including iPhone and Android mobile devices.

Mixable allows students to:

  • Receive Facebook friend suggestions based on their class enrollment;
  • Participate in discussions about the course in Facebook or Twitter;
  • Post items from Mixable directly to Facebook or Twitter for public sharing;
  • Share links to Web resources, which will embed an image or video when the user posts a link to it;
  • Play back audio and video recordings of Purdue classes from Purdue's BoilerCast system;
  • Sync, share, and back up files through Dropbox accounts; and
  • Access files while at any computer or with a mobile smartphone.

The students choose whether or not to participate in the study group and can designate the level of privacy they wish to maintain with other members of their study group. "Within Mixable you can share your thoughts or work with one person, with your study group or with the whole class," Bowen said. He added that Mixable can be used as a stand-alone program too, without the connection to Facebook.

The new application authenticates with the university system and Facebook. According to Brittany Robertson, a Purdue junior studying education and one of the first students to try out Mixable, when she logged into Facebook using her Purdue account, she received a list of classes she could choose to opt out of or connect to. She said she and others are using it to peer edit papers before turning them in.

Dropbox is an online service that offers 2 GB of free storage, with additional storage available for a charge. It was added to the Mixable service as an alternative to the use of flash drives, e-mail attachments, or FTP sites. Dropbox connects with Mixable through application programming interfaces provided by the vendor.

Purdue CIO and Vice President for IT Gerry McCartney, said he thinks the new application will help students connect with each other more effectively. "In one early demo I saw of how students can use Mixable, a student had taken a photo of an enormous equation--it covered the entire page in her notebook--and posted it for her friends from the class to help her solve. That's when I realized this will be an important new tool for students," he said.

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