Work Integrated Learning in ANY Class (peerScholar meets Riipen)

Toronto, Ontario, August 23rd, 2018 — Steve Joordens, Director of the Advanced Learning Technologies Lab

Let me start this post by highlighting two things I feel strongly about with respect to the educational experience I offer my students …

  • First, I believe in the general philosophy behind Authentic Assessment, the idea that students are more engaged in – and thus learn more from – activities the result in a product that has relevance outside of the classroom.  With respect to this post, one “hot” example of this is Work Integrated Learning, having students engage in some activity that clearly connects what is being learned in the classroom to real issues challenging some corporate entity.
  • Second, I believe that students pay attention to the things we, as educators, value and they tune their learning to that.  Thus, if we begin our first class by outlining a syllabus that highlights multiple-choice testing, we are signaling that we primarily value content learning.  In contrast, if our syllabus includes components focused on developing transferable skills and considering how those skills might be applied beyond the university experience, then students will give the development of those skills more time and effort.

With these points in mind then, I was very interested when I initially heard that the University of Toronto was conducting a pilot project with a Canadian Ed Tech company named Riipen.  Riipen represents a new form of work-integrated learning, one designed to fit within traditional classrooms.  Specifically, it connects corporate entities with students in a manner that allows Professors to give their students projects in course that align with a real-world concerns from corporate and not-for-profit worlds.  By all accounts it works very well, at least in relatively small classes (say 30 or less), bringing relevance and interactions with corporate entities to the projects students engage in.  The University of Toronto has committed to a variety of forms of experiential learning, as we see the Riipen approach as providing one component of this larger strategy and several projects on the Riipen platform will be rolled out by the end of this year.

I teach a large class, a very large (i.e., 1600 – 1800 student) Introduction to Psychology class.  From the outset of my introduction to Riipen I began wondering if there was a way to bring a version of the Riipen experience to such a large, first-year course.  I’m a big believer that large classes can provide deep and rich learning experience if technology can be used creatively.  I thought I could see a way to make it happen, and I reached out to the folks at Riipen, and they were interested.  Together we applied for grant from the Career Ready fund which was granted (thank you!!) and we began testing the concept, and building out a modification of their tool that would allow the idea to be easily implemented by others.  So what’s this idea?

In our summer offering of my course it worked as follows.  We found a corporate partner, Pearson Education to be specific, who was willing to offer a “challenge” to students, one focused on their reaction to a new digital form of content provision they are championing called REVEL.  Essentially they asked students to write a short critical analysis of the pros and cons of such an approach (which they had experienced in the course) relative to traditional textbooks.  They also offered to directly assess and provide feedback on the “Best 10” compositions, and offered a professional learning experience to the winner and prizes for second and third place. If interested, you can go here to see the specific “Your REVEL Experience” project in REVEL

OK, but how do we go from 1600 students to the “Best 10”?  Those who know me know of my embrace of peer-assessment in general, and of peerScholar specifically (see  Students exercise the most important transferable skills like critical thought, creative thought, and effective communication when they assess and provide feedback to the work of their peers, and then formatively revise their own drafts in light of peer-provided feedback.  It is not a stretch to say that in my opinion there is no other pedagogical practice that is more powerful and relevant given our need to develop these skills in our students to equip them for their uncertain futures.  So my idea was fairly straightforward, we begin with a round, or multiple rounds, of peer-assesment, asking students to rate the work of their peers on a range of quantitative scales that ultimately would allow us to choose the “Best 10”.

Specifically then, students were invited to consider the challenge and to compose a response to it that the corporate partner would find informative and interesting.  They submitted their composition via peerScholar, then assessed the compositions submitted by their peers.  The peers were sampled randomly and their work was presented without any identifying information.  Students scored each composition on four criteria; how clear was the composition, how interesting or innovative were the ideas presented, was the tone appropriately professional, and how persuasive was the perspective presented by the student?  Each student scored the work of 3 of their peers, and each composition was ultimately scored by 3 students.

I mentioned the potential for multiple rounds.  This can work a little like playoffs in sports.  In my class this Fall, for example, I plan two rounds, one to go from the original 1600 to, say, the “Best 200” (based on average peer-provided scores).  Those 200 would have received feedback, and would then be invited to submit a revised version of their work into a second round.  Given the authors of the “Best 200” were selected based on the quality of their work, it is expected that all students within this round would receive reliable and useful feedback.  Once again we can choose the “Top 10” based on quantitative scores, and those authors would then submit a final revision of their work, informed by their peers in the “Best 200”, to produce the version that the corporate entities would then review.

We tested this process in my Summer class of about 285 students, providing it as a single-round bonus activity that students could engage in and earn up to 2 bonus marks in the course.  In this initial test we ran into a couple of issues largely because we were using one application for the peer-assessment, and another for the interaction with the corporate entity.  Ultimately 58 (approx 20%) of the students stuck with us and completed the activity, which is actually a decent rate for a completely online summer course taken by students who often have many other conflicting priorities in the summer.  Perhaps the more relevant aspect of this test was us verifying the process we had envisioned could work smoothly, and that the students who did experience it valued it highly.

We have since worked together to integrate a “powered by peerScholar” peer-assessment step directly within the Riipen platform which will allow us and others to implement the process we describe very easily.  This means that now the Riipen experience can be had in ANY size classroom, and we’re looking forward to running a full test of this in the upcoming Fall class.  I’ll post highlights as we do.

Note that it still may be the case that only a subset of students engage in the activity. Of course, I would love for every student to try it as I think it provides great practice with transferable skills in a context that has real relevance to a corporate partner.  It combines the skills development aspect of peerScholar with the engagement and relevance of Riipen, which is extremely exciting.  When I first use new technologies I will often make them for bonus grades, but assuming all works well I see this as forming a core part of the course in the future, likely one that will be worth up to 4 or 5% of the final grade.

But in addition to the experience itself it also provides a great excuse for me, one of the first Professors they experience in one of their first university classes, to highlight the connection between what they will be learning, and the corporate world they will eventually enter.  I can highlight how the skills they are learning have as much if not more relevance than the content, and why they should work diligently to develop these skills during their four years in our institution. They value what we value, and this new activity allows me to show the value I hold in transferable skills development in addition to the transmission of relevant content.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Riipen platform book an appointment to chat with them here, or you can visit  Until then, happy educating!

Link to UofT / Riipen Case Study

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