Feedback from peer-experts impacts cross-cultural learning

Today’s globalised world has sparked our interest to know more about the diverse cultures and heritages that voluntarily or involuntarily shape our everyday lives. Education can prepare students to adapt and live fulfilling lives in this globalised world, but often cultural learning through the curriculum is delivered in a rigid manner. We were keen to explore how the use of digital tools could harness the lived experiences of young people around the world to develop deeper cultural understanding and impact flexibility in the school curriculum.


We embarked on an international cross-cultural learning activity with two schools in India and the UK over a period of three months, exploring notions of culture prevalent in the two countries through the eyes of the students. 30 students from The Indian School in New Delhi connected with 30 students from Gosforth Central Middle School in Newcastle upon Tyne. Through a project-based learning approach, students created physical and digital artefacts to represent their learning about the other culture by engaging with real-world contacts on their chosen topic. Students in India had to develop artefacts relating to UK and students in UK developed artefacts relating to India.

Students worked collaboratively in groups to develop artefacts such as travelogues depicting an imagined journey, models of iconic tourist attractions, music history and other physical artefacts to showcase their learning. They then developed digital mysteries using the Thinking Kit platform, a multi-user, computer based learning application designed to promote collaboration and higher order thinking skills.

A key aspect of this research project was to develop higher-order thinking in young people by encouraging them to provide feedback as peer-experts. Students from the two schools downloaded the digital mysteries created by their peers in the other school. They solved the digital mysteries and provided feedback on the content, context and aesthetics. Providing feedback to their peers encouraged students to harness their expertise and knowledge about the culture they were raised in; they became peer-experts.

Sharing feedback in both directions encouraged students to think deeply about both cultures and increased the impact of the feedback. After receiving the critique students highlighted how they would engage with the feedback and what they would do differently if they had to do the project again. This feedback led some of the students to re-visit their digital mystery, whilst others developed a completely new project plan.

Our international cross-cultural learning activity has highlighted that the presence of culture is not just in objects but also in practices and lived experiences of people. Harnessing the role of peer-experts, we were able develop a dialogic learning activity between the students to expand their understanding of how peer-feedback can shape and inform their learning.

We would like to thank the students and teachers at The Indian School, New Delhi and Gosforth Central Middle School, Newcastle for collaborating with us on this project. We also extend our thanks to IIIT-Delhi for helping us identify suitable collaborators alongside providing us on-the-ground logistical support in India.

For more information please contact Vidya Sarangapani.

Deep learning through classroom-community collaboration

The pluralist nature of our society has encouraged young people to explore and experience cultural diversity from a very young age. Schools are championing this approach by entwining curriculum topics with themes of cultural diversity but often this consists of exploring factual knowledge of rituals, practices, objects and historical events. We were keen to develop a learning approach that encouraged young people to explore real-world settings and tap into the knowledge assets present within their local communities.

We worked with 128 students from Gosforth Central Middle School, Newcastle upon Tyne over two terms on the topic of migration, incorporating elements of history, geography and religious education. Students worked in groups and collaborated with community members, parents, grandparents, relatives and friends to collect stories of migration and used these stories to further develop physical and digital artefacts.

Working in groups collaboratively, students interviewed young immigrants, explored immigration policies in political manifestos, created interactive board games and other artefacts to share the stories gathered from their community. Some students used the Thinking Kit platform, a multi-user, computer based learning application, designed to promote collaboration and higher order thinking skills, to develop interactive digital activities.

By talking to their community members over a sustained period of time, students could display empathic attitudes to learning. Using the experiences of others led to deep learning, a learning approach where students focus on understanding the meaning of the learning material, relate new ideas to previous knowledge and use concepts to make sense of their own everyday experiences in relation to others. This deep learning was possible due to the real-world conversations that children engaged in, outside their classrooms.

The use of the Thinking Kit digital application was important to amalgamate the personal learning of the students into the school curriculum and make it accessible to the wider student community. The digital artefacts are now a learning resource and are available as free downloads to anyone interested in student-led approaches to learning.

By encouraging students to link with the real-world, we want to create opportunities for students to question, reason and critically engage with the information available to them. In doing so we wish to support students to become active participants in an increasingly globalised world, bridging the gap between classrooms and communities.

For more information please contact Vidya Sarangapani.

Lab talk: Oliver Harness

Complex organisations such as schools cater well for the majority of their pupils, but those pupils who do not fit neatly into the organisational systems and structures may be neglected or need added support. Schools regularly collect and collate pupil performance and attendance data in an attempt to identify those not meeting normative standards. However those pupils with complex needs ‘get lost’ in this normative monitoring. Such pupils are those with special educational needs, or who are carers, or who are looked after.

It is those whose needs sit outside of the majority who need the most specific individualised support, yet they are most likely to be ‘missed’ by a complex organisation. Innovative IT solutions may help to enable managers meet to the needs of all pupils in schools, even those often marginalised by organisational systems and structures.

Oliver Harness, a School Improvement Advisor in Hartlepool, discusses the issues of support in schools, and opens a discussion about ways in which technology can help.