Major Pedagogical Features

While peerScholar provides a logistically reasonable method of promoting critical thinking through written assignments in classrooms of any size, its primary benefits are pedagogical.

Enhanced Student Experience peerScholar is transformative because it reflects an educational enhancement over the standard approach of having experts do grading. In a typical assignment context, the only "answer" that students see to an open-ended written assignment is their own. Itís difficult for students to understand how strong their ideas and communication are when they donít get a chance to directly compare them to the ideas and communication of others. By reviewing their peersí answers, some of which might be inferior to or better than their own, students are given a very strong sense of their own skill levels.

Active Perspective on Learning It is sometimes said that teachers cannot make students learn, they can only make them want to learn. The process of learning is controlled by each student, so itís up to the teacher to motivate and provide contexts that will provoke learning. When students are shown examples of their peersí work and are asked to discriminate among them based on quality, the students are suddenly put in the role of deciding what is good, and why. Even when they are not provided a rubric as a guide, students innately know that certain pieces are stronger than others. The challenge is then figuring out what makes certain pieces strong or weak. This sort of active perspective on learning is much more powerful than someone listing the features of a well-written pieceóit supports a deeper form of learning. For evidence of this efficacy, see the research on peerScholar.

Timely, Significant Feedback peerScholarís automated system allows assignments to be completed in a condensed time period. Students receive feedback on their work not long after composing it, and most definitely while it is still fresh in their minds. Given their own experiences as graders, they are in much stronger and more informed positions when assessing the feedback given to their own work. This timeliness and power of feedback supports a strong learning environment.

Broad Scope of Assignments While peerScholar has been primarily used to support written assignments, its potential for use is broad. For example, a photography professor asks her students to take photos that emphasize light and shadow, and each student must upload their best photo to peerScholar. The students assess the pictures submitted by their peers according to a grading rubric provided by their instructor, but also based on their own learning as they compare and grade each assigned studentís photo. All of the required learning and logistical advantages are present in this very different domain. As long as the target is something that can be presented digitally, and the "answer" could be submitted digitally, the peerScholar system will support it. Even though itís described primarily as a tool to support critical thinking and clear written communication, peerScholar is more generally an innovation that supports deep learning via peer-assessment.

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