Every class, freshman Minneli Seneviratne walks into Enterprise Hall 80 and sees approximately 150 unfamiliar faces. In any other class this size, lecture after lecture, these faces usually remain unknown and the class loses its human touch.

“I immediately felt relaxed,” Seneviratne said of the Government 132: Introduction to International Politics class. “But the same time I felt, am I not going to learn effectively?”

Her professor, Peter Mandaville, has found a way to overcome the barrier of numbers.

Enter Lore: a new, multifaceted, online tool whose main feature is a Facebook-like discussion board. Mandaville is using Lore for the first time this semester in Seneviratne’s class to create a small class atmosphere.

“I am trying to use it as a substitute or a proxy for a smaller, seminar kind of setting,” said Mandaville, who has taught at Mason since 2000. “My sense is not that Lore can act as a full substitute for [an intimate setting], but it can help to bridge the gaps in a class of such size.”

Lore has provided the course with a platform for discussion. After lectures, students post questions to clarify content. Before lectures, students discuss readings and assignments. Even during the lecture, students make comments and respond to each other in real time.

During class, Government and International Politics major Laura Patten asked on Lore, “Do you think the U.S. always sides with the protesters in Middle East countries that are not democratic?” Patten received an almost immediate response from her peers.

Similar questions arise every class and students respond to them by relating concepts learned in class, outside resources and personal opinion.

Examples such as Patten’s participation on Lore aid in the instructional process and compensate for lack of face-to-face discussion.

“Initially, I thought Lore was people taking what they learned and just regurgitating it,” Seneviratne said. “But people don’t just restate stuff. They take their own opinions, they comment. So it’s basically anything you want to express about that subject matter.”

Originally called Coursekit, Lore is an online learning tool that takes advantage of social media to enhance the learning experience. Three students from the University of Pennsylvania, who realized that many instructors hate Blackboard, created Lore. Lore does not have all of Blackboard’s features such as the integration of Pearson and McGraw-Hill ready-made content. But it does allow students to submit assignments, which can be commented on by the instructor. It also serves as an online grade book.

Created by a college dropout, Lore’s goal is to take the integration of technology in learning to a new level.

“People on my network on Twitter were tweeting about it, saying that this is the future of virtual learning environments,” Mandaville said. “I took a look at it and it just struck me as so much more user friendly and intuitive.”

Blackboard Learn 9.1 is the officially supported online tool for Mason instructors. Blackboard, however, does not allow for instructors to utilize social media and, according to Mandaville, is persistently behind the times in terms of basic interface audibility issues.

Instructional designer Katrina Joseph works with faculty on using Blackboard. Joseph agrees that Lore, and many other Blackboard alternatives, has a greater range of motion and is more appealing than Blackboard.

“Professors want to use a lot of social media that you can’t use on Blackboard because Blackboard does limit you,” Joseph said. “Lore is intuitive just like WordPress: everything at a glance. You’re not hindered by the Blackboard frame.”

Mandaville’s disdain to use Blackboard has lead him to take the plunge and test Lore in two classes this semester.

“Literally 72 hours before classes started, I was like, alright, let’s try this,” Mandaville said.

Mandaville describes Lore as having a Facebook-type feel, being clean and economical in terms of how it renders information. Blackboard, he argues, is non-intuitive and behind the times in terms of its interface.

“I’m a huge fan of the use of technology as an instructional resource, but I just never clicked with Blackboard,” Mandaville said.

Ben Fedderson, one of the two graduate teaching assistants in Mandaville’s class, believes that Lore’s interface is more approachable and, therefore, more attractive to students. Lore’s modern features allow for it to be an extension of the course, without the uptight setting of a lecture-style class.

“The platform is clean, accessible and intuitive for the modern web user,” Fedderson said in an email interview. “It allows the continuation of the social aspects of the course into spaces that students are spending more and more time in.”

Lore’s cutting-edge characteristics were one of the attributes that Mandaville thought would appeal to students and attract them to using it.

“People are actually kind of hanging out on it,” Mandaville said. “Which is what I really wanted to happen.”