Scholar Promotes Peer-to-Peer Learning

This article was created by a Technology Services student employee. Our student employees attend, engage, and report on campus events that feature technology. Students provide a unique perspective on how innovations in technology affect campus life.

By Noah Malmed, Computer Science '15

When asked what a Learning Management System (LMS) is, I think most U of I students would respond with a shrug. However, when asked if they know what Moodle or Compass is, they would undoubtedly know what you are talking about.

An LMS is basically an online classroom that allows professors to digitally manage teaching tasks such as posting and grading assignments.

Because they can automate some of an instructor’s more mundane tasks, LMS technologies are useful in almost all educational settings.

Professor Bill Cope (pictured at left, image courtesy of Bill Cope), a Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies here at the University of Illinois, believes LMSs have much more potential than is currently being explored.

Thus, with donations from Institute of Educational Sciences and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a new LMS called Scholar was born.

I sat down with Professor Cope to discuss where the idea for Scholar came from and what it has to offer.


Students are knowledge producers

Scholar began in 2009 with a $1.5 million dollar grant from the Institute of Education Sciences

Contrary to other LMSs like Moodle and Compass, Scholar was built to harness the power of many different technologies to create a unique learning experience for students.

The main focus of Scholar is to provide a learning environment that promotes peer-to-peer evaluation and ongoing feedback.

Cope is using Scholar in all of his classes this term, including EPSY 556: Analysis of Educational Tech. To give me an idea of the type of peer-to-peer environments that Scholar creates, Cope showed me the weekly work that students were doing in his classes.

One of his weekly assignments asks students to post small writings on that week’s course content. Students are also required to comment on other students’ posts. 

This type of dialog, Cope explained, “positions students as knowledge producers, not knowledge consumers.”

One of the really interesting parts of Scholar is how these types of discussion assignments are presented to the student.

The homepage is an activity stream that shows recent posts by both students and instructors. This makes how Scholar presents content look like Facebook or Twitter.

By presenting information in such a familiar manner, Scholar takes advantage of social media, rather than fighting against it.

In addition to the community discussion boards, Scholar also provides a sophisticated word processing and reviewing system in its “Creator” section.

To give me a better idea of the capabilities of Scholar’s word processor, Cope showed me an essay written by one of his students.

Cope presented the paper to me by saying, “this is what a twenty-first-century essay looks like.”

And he was right.

The essay had all sorts of different multimedia such as embedded YouTube videos, images, and block quotes.

As a student, this type of writing looked incredibly appealing to me. Watching videos and listening to sound clips are such prominent modern forms of content consumption that it seems almost backward to not require these things in modern academia.

Aside from the essay itself, Scholar has a commenting and assessing system built into the software.

Scholar signifies to me a step forward in the modernization of education. However, the pedagogical techniques that Scholar attempts to simulate are not new. Synchronous discussion, peer review, and direct quotation of material are tried-and-tested foundational elements of education, and have been for quite a while.

As such, technology is not a revolutionary approach to education, but instead allows modern advances in technology to make the process of education easier.

In addition to its commercial use as a teaching tool, Scholar is an area of research.

For grad student Adam P. Rusch, Scholar is an integral part of the research for his dissertation. 

In order to compare the effectiveness of different LMSs, four different ones are being used in this semester’s offering of Theater 101. Rusch is comparing the effectiveness of Scholar, Moodle, Compass, and Canvas. Each LMS has 240 students assigned to using it.

By teaching the same class with different software, Rusch is hoping to find what students really prefer.

There currently aren’t any results for the study, but Rusch believes that students will respond well to the Scholar interface because of its social media type layout.

If you are interested in learning more about Scholar, check out its website. If you are still not convinced of the merits of Scholar or just want to check it out, it’s free to make an account!