Rebalancing Educational Priorities

Once upon a time classrooms were small, and teachers had the time and ability to encourage students to share and react to each other's ideas about what they were learning. This aspect of the learning experience was critical as it allowed students experience thinking critically and creatively, as well as experience with both receptive communication (i.e., listening effectively to others) and expressive communication (i.e., voicing their own perspectives in efficient ways). These are what educators now call core cognitive skills, and unlike the learning of information, students can only develop skills through repeated structured practice. These sorts of Socratic-like exchanges used to provide that practice.

In a world in which information is everywhere, and not all of it is accurate, the ability to critically think about and discuss the information we are exposed to has never been more important. Thus if there was ever a time to prioritize the teaching of core cognitive skills, it is now. Unfortunately, as class sizes increase without commensurate growth in budgets the traditional method for teaching core cognitive skills has become logistically impossible. The result is that our current education systems are unbalanced, putting most of their emphasis on the teaching of content, and very little on the structured development of core cognitive skills.

It is our mission to rebalance this system by imagining, creating, testing and advocating for new and innovative methods that once again give teachers the time and ability to provide their students with structured practice engaging the core cognitive skills that underly success in the modern world. This website provides documents, media, and more specific presentations of the tools and ideas that form the cornerstone of our efforts. Thank you for experiencing this site, and if we share our vision please reach out. Together we can do things that are impossible alone.

For more details about our efforts please click below to read either a brief or more complete description of the things we have been doing and will continue to do.

Our Vehicles of Influence

Innovation

In the Advanced Learning Technologies Lab we create technologies that empower educators to not only break through logistical barriers but also to amplify the impact of the very best educational practices.  Of those, peerScholar is the technology most relevant to the rebalancing of education

Research

We rely heavily on research to inform the efficacy and usability of technologies, and we also use it to inform educators of the just how effective certain technologies may be, and how to use them in ways that has the maximum positive impact.

Advocacy

Through keynote talks, workshops, conference presentations and media interactions we advocate for the need to rebalance education, and to show that doing so is now within our reach

Innovation: Building Stairways to Heaven

Many visionaries of education like Michael Fullan, John Hattie or Sir Ken Robinson describe what we call educational heaven; a vision of a revised education system wherein 21st Century Skills including critical and creative thought as well as effective communication skills are taught with the same priority as content is taught today. Our goal is to help educators reach this goal by elucidating specific ways of getting to this heaven, and giving them powerful and practical tools for doing so. Our work is guided by the following question; how exactly can teachers and educational institutions give their students the kind of structured practice that is necessary to develop these skills given current limitations of time and resources?

In our lab our general goal is to create and assess innovative technologies that can provide concrete tools for moving us in the desired direction; we build stairways to heaven if you will. The stairway most relevant to the skills highlighted here is a cloud-based innovation called peerScholar. The videos presented below will briefly walk you through the three steps of the peerScholar process, emphasizing how each step supports the development of critical thought, creative thought, and both expressive and receptive communication, all while giving students a very clear sense of the quality of their own work.

Create Phase

Instructor Side

Assess Phase

Promotional

Reflect Phase

Learning Impact

Research: Evidence-Based at the Highest Level

We are researchers first. Our innovations are all based on practices that have a research-proven efficacy. We then submit the innovations themselves to research in our Advanced Learning Technologies Lab to ensure maximum impact and usability. This has resulted in many international publications and presentations - sometimes keynote presentations - at many international conferences. Here are three examples of our work.

Joordens, Paré & Collimore (2015)

In this report for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario we map the peerScholar process onto pedagogical goals, and then describe experiments showing its impact on critical thought and metacognition.

Collimore, Paré & Joordens (2015)

In this publication we show that students enjoy the process of peer assessment and see its value in terms of the learning it supports

Paré & Joordens (2009)

In this publication we show how it is possible to generate valid grades based on peer-averages alone when at least 5 to 6 peers provide assessments.  This shows how peerScholar can suppport the development of core cognitive skills even at scales too large to allow expert grading.

Advocacy: Getting the Word Out

Through presentations to academic institutions to interactions with the media to podcasts and invited talks we continually emphasize both the importance of rebalance education in favour of core cognitive skills, and the fact that tools are now available that provide powerful and easy to use opportunities to do just that. Below are some examples of that advocacy.

TEDx

The Agenda

Academic

Impact

Our technologies are being used widely in Canada, The United States and The Netherlands, and are now used by literally tens of thousands of students the world over at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels.

Our research is published in international peer-reviewed journals and is presented at both national and international conferences.

We have emphasized the importance and described methods for developing core cognitive skills via invited keynotes from Mexico City, Mexico to Utrecht, The Netherlands to Trondheim, Norway.

As highlighted below, we have also received many awards in recognition of the impact we are having on public education at a global level, a central goal that is also reflected by our pro-bono cooperative work with a number of different organizations.

Who We Are

Awards & Recognition

  • Nominated for the Inaugural Yidan Prize (2017) by UofT Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education, Professor Susan McCahan
  • 2017 Nominated for the Grawemeyer Award for Education (2018) by UTSC VP of Research, Professor Heinz-Bernhard Kraatz
  • 2015 3M National Teaching Fellowship
  • 2014 UTSC Principles Award: Special Commendation in Recognition for Commitment to Educational Innovation
  • 2013 University of Toronto Inventor of the Year Award for "Innovative Cloud-Based eLearning Tools"
  • 2012 Ontario Colleges and Universities Faculty Association (OCUFA) Teaching Award
  • 2010 Finalist for Computer World Magazines IT Educator of the Year
  • 2010 University of Toronto President's Teaching Award
  • 2009 National Technology Innovation Award (from The Learning Partnership)
  • 2008 The William Line Memorial Graduate Scholarship in Psychology
  • 2007 Province of Ontario's Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award
  • 2007 The John Davidson Ketchum Memorial Graduate Award in Psychology

Supporting the Educational Community

Global Teenager Project

The Global Teenager Project brings together children from over 40 countries into learning circles that, together, learn about topics of global relevance (e.g., children’s rights) and ultimately share their work via peerScholar – we provide the technology and expertise to support this work pro bono

Cisco

Cisco’s Connected North initiative is aimed at reducing the isolation experienced by students and teachers in the northern-most parts of Canada.  We have leant them our expertise pro bono to help them assess and evolve their program in research-guided ways

CogX

CogX provides evidence-based tutoring of basic cognitive skills to students who are struggling to succeed in public education, many of whom are recent refugees.  We have recently joined with them to also help these students develop their higher level thinking and communication skills.