ICT&E  /  The synergy between Learning Circles and peerScholar

The synergy between Learning Circles and peerScholar


The Global Teenager Project and peerScholar:

From Learner to Leader


Parts of this text come from Prof. Steve Joordens ‘ 3000-word composition for the 2017 international E-Learning award’.
Due to his efforts, that of the GTP and peerScholar team and Bob Hofman’s presentations in Porto, we won the second price in November 2017 in Portugal.

GTP and pS: a synergy in goals

A central goal of the Global Teenager Project is to have students across the world share in deep meaningful learning experiences.
In 2012 we saw the synergistic potential of including 
peerScholar in Learning Circles.

To use 
peerScholar in learning circles means including three evidence-based educational processes; peer-assessment, self-assessment and formative assessment.
Let us focus on the WHY – HOW – WHAT, before we explain the three phases of a peerScholar activity.


The Global Teenager Project represents what is possible when one re-imagines education with a global-learning perspective.
‘Children first’ because “today’s learners are tomorrow’s leaders”.
The primary purpose of education is to provide students with the skills and knowledge for success and positive citizenship. I
nnovative global educational programs that are generative, authentic, and respond to the evolving changes our world is facing.

The peerScholar team and the GTP team strongly believe in supporting learning experiences that are unique and that contribute to the larger global – and even the specific local – community.  


It’s global in the best sense of the word: In our 20 year history the GTP is now focussing on using educational technologies to deepen learning with each other. Students need future skills to succeed, and to do so in a global context they are also developing their sense of global citizenship.


E-Learning has broken the constraints of the traditional brick-and-mortar institutions.  
For dedicated passionate educators, the opportunity of providing an online educational experience is an opportunity to rethink about powerful ways of inspiring the minds of the next generation.  

The Overall Learning Circle concept

Learning circles are virtual classrooms for intercultural exchange and learning.For several weeks or months (depending on the type of circle), classes, groups and individual students from different countries are linking up via Wiki and social media or the peer assessment tool peerScholar.
Students explore and share work and knowledge on a specific theme or topic of interest: children’s rights, global citizenship, sustainable development goals or international Literature.
The GTP was initially designed for high school students, but has now been expanded and includes children as young as 9, and those with all abilities including gifted, talented and those with special needs.

Evidence based educational processes

To use peerScholar in learning circles means including three evidence-based educational processes; peer-assessment, self-assessment and formative assessment.  
Across the three phases of a peerScholar activity students:

1.    submit a draft composition or essay, aided by a clear rubric and any other digital resources that scaffold learning (e.g., positive exemplars)
2.   assess and provide critical feedback to a subset of anonymously presented peer compositions, and then also critically analyze their own work
3.   assess the feedback attached to their work from a subset of anonymous peers, use it to guide a revision, and then justify the changes made and not made in a reflective piece.

This powerful learning process provides students a structured practice with the most commonly highlighted 21st Century Skills (e.g., Critical Thought, Creative Thought, Communication, MetaCognition).  Moreover, the process itself is “content agnostic” in the sense that it can be applied to any form of digital composition. Its emphasis on giving and receiving useful feedback also aligns well with current educational priorities.  

What made peerScholar especially attractive in the context of the Global Teenager Project was the fact that this process was captured in a cloud-based application and thus could be used easily in our global e-Learning context.

peerScholar is a product conceived by researchers from the Advanced Learning Technologies Lab at the University of Toronto. As the peerScholar team learned more about the Global Teenager Project they appreciated the passion that GTP members have put into the initiative, and the impact it is having on students.
It is something they wanted to be a part of immediately.

How peerScholar strengthens the Learning Circles

The peerScholar team agreed to provide their technology and support to the Global Teenager Project for as long as it was desired.  The result was the revised reflection phase of the Learning Circles which now proceeds in line with the peerScholar process across three phases: create, assess and revise.  


In the last weeks of their circle process all students draft an essay in peerScholar. For example an essay about ways to improve or expand the Children’s Rights.  To highlight the extent to which this initiative is inclusive: a student from a special needs school in Suriname wrote about the basic right to be accepted the way you were born.

In the second phase every student was able to see the work of 3 peers, and they were asked to give constructive feedback to their peers via in-line comments and ’two stars and a wish’. Can you imagine the impact for a student in Canada, receiving feedback from a student from Ukraine, The Netherlands and South Africa, very clearly telling them what they liked about the essay and suggesting improvements to make the essay even stronger. The most funny part was that peerScholar was ‘set’ to anonymously assign the work to the three peers … while students did not try to hide their names or countries.

In the last week each student received feedback in peerScholar from 3 peers. Students loved to read the feedback received and were pleased to explain explicitly how they used it to improve their work. Explanations like… “In my country it is always safe… now I realize that peace is something to be very grateful for” or “due to the different kinds of feedback I became aware that there is more than one truth”.
And what about….”My teacher told me that he was proud about the way I used the feedback to make my work stronger”. In one of the Dutch classes I visited, students had selected the feedback that helped them to improve their work and feedback that didn’t; the teacher just smiled… this is real ownership of learning!

During our visits to schools students tell us how thrilled they are about using peerScholar and told story after story about the feedback they received from around the world!  


peerScholar details

——–>    slides 3 phases (follows)


The biggest part of the Global Teenager Project infrastructure is the human infrastructure.  Many members of the team are the human faces that orchestrate the initiative. They are joined by dedicated teachers and students inspired by this unique and interesting learning experience.  All of this happens in part due to support from educational administrators. As described above, the team is now joined by the peerScholar team who aid in the creation, distribution and management of the peerScholar portion of the learning experience.



Many of the challenges of such a global initiative are expected; timezones differ, class delivery schedules differ, teacher support may differ.  These are the common challenges that the administrators of the Global Teenager Project face regularly. But the administration team is flexible and able to alter things on the fly because sometimes things happen that you cannot predict.

In fact, sometimes it is the unpredictable events that take the shared learning experience to the next level.  One example in one particular learning circle the feedback from peers was due on a certain day, however, two students in the class from Ukraine were not able to submit their work.  It turns out that bombings close to the school had knocked out power and their internet connection. When the students were able to rejoin, a new discussion about security began spontaneously, inspired largely by the non-Ukrainian students’ new understanding of the fragility of peace.



Next Steps

The process that we have encouraged over the last 6 years has become very effective.  

Thus, for the short term, the primary goal is simply to grow the initiative, including more schools, more teachers and more countries.  There is increasing interest from all corners of the world and the more perspectives that are included the more powerful the learning will be.

Back to the why:

We don’t need technology for technology’s sake but we need to support our learners to grow into positive global citizens.
Let’s use e-learning as an opportunity to rethink powerful, ways of inspiring the minds of the next generation.  

“Today’s learners are tomorrow’s leaders”