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Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives

Edited By Jean-Luc Gilles

The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects and to foster opportunities for international publications.

The aim of this collective book is to give an overview of the Issues, case studies and perspectives of the PEERS program. The first section entitled "Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World", focuses on the foundations and general features of PEERS projects, as well as the context of globalization in the intercultural and connected world in which it is situated.

The second section, "Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries" constitutes a series of chapters presenting case studies on PEERS projects focused on innovation and cooperation in the developing world. The third section, "Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects," considers the results from PEERS projects that have enabled the implementation of theoretical and practical educational research, generally taking the form of small-case research studies or innovations in the design of teaching units. Finally, in the conclusion we propose to present the key points of the three sections that make up this book "Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives".

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Chapter 1: Origin, Foundations, Objectives, and Original Aspects of the PEERS Program Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education (Jean-Luc Gilles)

Jean-Luc Gilles

University of Teacher Education, State of Vaud, Lausanne, Switzerland

Chapter 1: Origin, Foundations, Objectives, and Original Aspects of the PEERS Program Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education


The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS enables international groups of students (6–8) and lecturers-researchers (2) from two partner institutions to carry out research and innovation (R&I) projects in connection with professional practice environments. Collaborative work is carried out remotely using Web 2.0 resources and face-to-face sessions during two one-week visits to partner institutions. For the students, this approach aims to develop skills in intercultural management and distance collaboration. It also fosters the emergence of a culture of continuous improvement in their professional activities. For lecturers-researchers, PEERS offers a new way of articulating research and training, as well as supporting the development of international networks, and broadening research experience.

1. Introduction

At this moment, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, profound societal transformations are affecting the entire planet. These are characterized notably by the increase and diversification of international migrations, the exponential expansion of the flow of information worldwide←25 | 26→ due to the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the strengthening of product trade on a global scale, and the increase in financial transactions without borders. Throughout the history of humanity, we have never known such socioeconomic interconnection across the globe. This phenomenon of interdependent economies and the expansion of human interactions in a connected world has become known as “globalization.” The term has become a catch-all but should be properly defined, as indicated by Bernard Charlot (2014). Charlot quotes the Director of Development Policy at the World Bank to give a definition of globalization that he summarizes as: “the increasing integration of the economies and societies across the world, due to the greater flow of goods, services, capital, technology, and ideas” (Dollar cited by Charlot 2014, p. 479). Others, like David Held & al. (1999), provide a complementary definition that captures the transformational and multidimensional aspects of the phenomenon:

(Globalization is) […] a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions – assessed in terms of their extensity, intensity, velocity and impact – generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction, and the exercise of power (Held & al., p. 16).

The term “globalization” also describes the unprecedented high degree of interconnection and integration of human activities, of which the cultural impact is undeniable:

We now live in a universe where the link between the local and the global is an inescapable fact of the present. The cultural consequences of this situation cannot be underestimated (Abélès, 2008, p. 133).

Indeed, the socioeconomic transformations resulting from globalization influence our social interactions and in some cases tend to weaken feelings of belonging to states and national cultures, as discussed by Hirst and Thompson (1996):

It is widely asserted that we live in an era in which the greater part of social life is determined by global processes, in which national cultures, national economies,←26 | 27→ and national borders are dissolving. Central to this perception is the notion of a rapid and recent process of economic globalization (p. 1).

Globalization impacts upon our lives and our societies, and its consequences are both positive and negative. On the one hand, globalization offers opportunities for positive change thanks to the high-speed transfer of technologies on a global scale. Information now circulates rapidly, helping, for example, to accelerate the growth of democratic movements where they are beginning to take hold. Human rights abuses can be brought to light and exposed to the entire world, embarrassing totalitarian governments and, with time, reducing their hold over the populations who are their victims. Another clear consequence has been the incredible acceleration of economic trade. Some of the poorest peoples have been able to seize the opportunities of a globalized world with and improve their living conditions. Over the last few decades, millions of people have thus been able to escape from poverty in the nation-continents of China and India. Globalization may contribute to bringing people together, and to strengthen solidarity, for example during large-scale natural catastrophes where victims are aided by non-governmental organizations and charities who work in every continent. These influential organizations are growing in power and are unaffected by borders. Little by little, a collective conscience is emerging of belonging to one planet. We are becoming citizens of the world, aware that what affects our neighbors, be they near or far, is likely to affect us too one day. Globalization is not of course only a phenomenon of inclusion, interdependence, and an idea of the world as a collection of idyllic economic, cultural and supportive global exchanges. From another point of view, it is also unfortunately characterized by phenomena of exclusion across regions, nations, or even continents such as Africa and Latin America, to the benefit of parts of the world that are already strong and prosperous. The continent of North America, the European Union, Japan, and the “Asian Tigers” have increased their trade and have been strengthened in a globalized world (Phtiaka, 2002; Michalet, 2004, 2007; Moreau Desfarges, 2016). The effects of globalization are not positive for all: in certain parts of the world, not uniquely in the southern hemisphere,←27 | 28→ globalization leads to offshoring, employment downturns, poverty, and violence. In certain cases, under the pressure of multinationals attempting to dictate their behavior, or world powers interfering with the internal affairs of other nations, the governments of some countries are persuaded to take measures against their own citizens, sometimes even by cutting investment in education.

Globalization therefore has both a benign and a shadowy side in all areas of human activity, whether in the economy and employment, health, communications, social interactions, or public policies. Education is no exception to this rule of both risk and opportunity. As educators, we have a duty to help minimize the risks, and to seize the opportunities offered to us by globalization. This means working on improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of a globalized, multicultural, and connected world, with particular focus on the younger generation, and to contribute to putting a quality education within the reach of everyone.

It is within this context that international exchanges in the areas of training, research, and services have done nothing but grow in higher education since the middle of the twentieth century. The developments in student mobility have been stunning over the last decades, in particular in Europe with the Erasmus+ program.

2. Internationalizing the Training of Teachers in a Changing Globalized World: the Origins of the PEERS Program

The internationalization of higher education has not escaped the phenomenon of globalization briefly described in our introduction, as outlined by Altbach, Reisberg and Rumbley (2009) in their report to the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education, “Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution”:←28 | 29→

Globalization, a key reality in the 21st century, has already profoundly influenced higher education. We define globalization as the reality shaped by an increasingly integrated world economy, new information and communications technology (ICT), the emergence of an international knowledge network, the role of the English language, and other forces beyond the control of academic institutions. Internationalization is defined as the variety of policies and programs that universities and governments implement to respond to globalization. These typically include sending students to study abroad, setting up a branch campus overseas, or engaging in some type of inter-institutional partnership (p. 5).

For these authors, the internationalization of higher education is both an integral part of the phenomenon of globalization, and is helping develop solutions to the flow of knowledge and the exchanges of researchers and students in a globalized world.

In Europe, the Bologna Accords, signed by forty-five European state members, have considerably contributed to harmonizing and internationalizing higher education, helping with the mobility of students and researchers. At the same time, the European Union (EU) has developed “key competences”, a set of: “knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will help learners find personal fulfillment and, later in life, find work and take part in society.1 These key competences cover communication in one’s mother tongue, foreign language proficiency, digital skills, and basic skills in math and science, as well as “horizontal” competences such as learning to learn, civic and social responsibility, initiative and entrepreneurship, cultural awareness, and creativity. It is in this context that cross-border mobility and co-operation are currently seeing enormous growth across Europe. The objective is ambitious: with the Erasmus+ program, the European Council has decided to increase by 20 % the number of students studying abroad by 20202.

In Switzerland, participation in EU training programs represents one of the priorities of the international strategy for training and research. The Swiss Secretary of State for Training, Research and Innovation (SEFRI), emphatically supports these international exchanges: “Thousands of←29 | 30→ young Swiss students have been able to enrich their training in recent years with a placement abroad, and thousands of young foreigners have been able to undertake a training placement in Switzerland. As of 2013, mobility programs have opened the door to other European countries for more than 7000 young Swiss people3. At the present time, following the positive approval of the initiative against mass immigration on February 9, 2014, negotiations for Swiss membership of the Erasmus+ program have been suspended, and Switzerland is now considered to be a third country by the EU. However, the Swiss authorities wish to maintain their alignment with the European goals regarding mobility: the “Swiss Universities’ Strategic Plan 2017–2020”4 adopted by the body representing university rectors on, December 10, 2014, also has a 20 % increase in student mobility as a target by 2020: “The promotion of the mobility of students is one of the principal objects of the Bologna Process. It has been decided, during the ministerial conference of 2009, that at least 20 % of students should be mobile by 2020” (p. 17).

To try to meet this objective, a specific program has been put in place: the Swiss-European Mobility Program (SEMP), which offers conditions similar to Erasmus+ for the exchange of students and teachers.

Teacher training is also undergoing profound changes in line with the “universitarization” of institutions. Vanhulst, Petitpierre and Macherel (2012) highlight this in the introduction to the strategic plan 2012–17 of the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud (HEP Vaud): “The universitarization of teacher training is now clearly evident in western countries” (p. 11). At the same time, these teacher training institutions, like other university institutions, are also now concerned with the internationalization of their training offers, and their support for the development of research and innovation.

In this environment of change, the HEP Vaud, a teacher training college in Lausanne, Switzerland, wishes to actively promote international←30 | 31→ exchanges. Its action plan for 2012–17 contains a strategic goal entitled “Opening up more to the outside world”. This is introduced as follows:

We intend to develop international relationships and the mobility of teachers and students to ensure that the training and research programs of the HEP Vaud are enriched, to promote its research output, and to reinforce its presence in the international arena (Vanhulst, Petitpierre & Macherel, 2012, p. 44).

In this spirit, the HEP Vaud integrated into its training offer a program of semesters abroad supported by the SEMP program, but after a few years it became apparent that the institution would not meet its target of 20 % student mobility by 2020 with this single program alone. During the first decade of the century, few student teachers were willing to undertake a placement abroad for a semester. This observation triggered discussion about diversifying the mobility offer, and about new forms of exchange that would be different from traditional semesters abroad, and more adapted to the present challenges of teacher training. This resulted in the creation by Gilles, Gutmann, and Tedesco (2012a, 2012b) of the PEERS program (the Projets d’Etudiants et d’Enseignants-chercheurs en Réseaux Sociaux, or Student and Teacher-Researchers Social Networks Projects), which has been in place since 2011–12 at the HEP Vaud in collaboration with its network of partner institutions. As we will see in the following sections, the PEERS program represents a real innovation regarding international exchanges within the domain of the training of teachers.

We will describe the key aspects of the program in the rest of this chapter, which begins the introductory part of our collective book “Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives”. With two others introductory chapters this chapter is part of Part 1, “Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World”. Concrete examples of PEERS projects will then be presented in the six chapters of Part 2, “Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries”, and in the next seven chapters of Part 3, “Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects”. Finally, to conclude, we will return to the innovative←31 | 32→ characteristics in Part 4 with the last chapter, “The PEERS Program: a New Way to Internationalize Teacher Training”.

3. Characteristics and Original Aspects of the PEERS Program

The PEERS program was born out of a reflection upon new forms of the internationalization of teacher training, taking into account a series of fundamental challenges that will be detailed in the following section of this chapter. PEERS aims to offer an original and coherent institutional framework to support the mobility and international projects of both teachers and students within the context of teacher training at a university level.

From a very pragmatic point of view, it equally aims to counteract the difficulties that future teachers meet when they wish to benefit from an international experience during their training journey, but experience real difficulties in moving away from their environment for several months and separating themselves from their training institution program (traditional studies and placements). This is the reason why we have preferred a concept of program internationalization relying on the one hand upon two short one-week placements with a partner institution during periods of the academic year when teaching is suspended, and on the other upon remote collaborations between these placements. The program as a whole is based upon the completion of international collaborative projects focused on Research and Innovation (R&I).

In its foundations, PEERS is inspired by Dewey (1897, 1899) and Kilpatrick’s (1918) project method and influenced by the development of projects approach in vocational education (Knoll, 1997) and also by contemporary adaptations of the method especially in the context of higher education (Pecore, 2015), with the particularity that here the trainer, the teacher-researcher who is supervising the students, is an integral part of an international R&I project group. PEERS encourages trainee teachers to experience a degree of autonomy that may vary from one project to←32 | 33→ another, but which always remains very high. The autonomy and the collaborative atmosphere apparent in these R&I educational projects, where everyone is a stakeholder, is a strong motivator. In the majority of cases groups are made up of six students and two partner institutions, with three students from each institution (but this can be as many as six), supervised by two teacher-researchers, one from each institution.

We also wanted to reduce as much as possible the cost of the two one-week placements in the partner institutions by having the rule that the members of the international group stay with one another. Most of the time participants pair up naturally: one student welcomes another student from a partner institution at his home. Teacher-researchers also abide by this rule and it is recommended that they host one other in their own homes. Besides reinforcing links within the international group, this practice naturally encourages the development of intercultural competencies.

At the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud (HEP Vaud) where the PEERS program was created, every academic year since 2011–12 a series of international groups, most often made up of eight people, have formed in this way following the initiative of pairs of teacher-researchers who are working in similar fields of research. In most cases, teacher-researchers know each other already through their work and exchanges (Gilles, Gutmann & Tedesco, 2012a).

With regard to the running of a PEERS project, during the preparation phase, the very first task for the teacher-researchers is to establish an R&I topic in education and to inform their students of the possibility of participating in an international project linked to this topic within the framework of the PEERS program. Each teacher-researcher then makes a selection among the candidates.

Once the international group has been formed, the first contact between members is made with the help of available Web 2.0 tools (social networks, email, instant messaging, etc.). During this second stage the initial discussions usually take place by videoconferencing, with the goal of getting to know one another and to outline the topic. This is the time when the R&I project is defined and analyzed. The international group then takes time to clarify research questions and hypotheses before drafting objectives, methods, and the work schedule. All kinds of questions relating←33 | 34→ to the management of the project are raised at this stage and must be resolved through remote collaborative work with the help of ICT, with all the intercultural complexity of these interactions, sometimes in a second language, and this is why English is therefore preferred. A record of decisions and activities is kept in shared online storage. This phase of the project is a kind of “team building” and analysis stage.

The third stage is the first one-week placement with the partner institution. This placement will have been prepared previously through remote discussions. The program for the week includes activities linked with the project, but also activities for learning about the education and training system (visits to schools, training centers, and places connected with the training of students). Cultural visits and recreational activities are also proposed outside of the work program. This first face-to-face week is obviously very productive from the point of view of project progress, but also with regard to learning and intercultural exchange.

Following this placement with the partner institution, the project is generally implemented in the field during the fourth stage and data collection can begin based on what has been planned. The collaboration with the international group does not stop there however and continues with the help of ICT. The PEERS program thus involves an alternation between periods of face-to-face work with periods of online exchange, and therefore the tools of Web 2.0 are an absolute necessity for these real-life situations of distance collaboration.

The fifth stage is the second one-week placement, which takes place during the second semester of the academic year, when the partners who had been invited in the fall become hosts in their turn to the other members of the international group. As with the first placement, the program for the week is prepared in advance and is composed of three elements: activities linked with the current project, sociocultural activities, and recreational activities. Generally, discussions revolve around the analysis of data and the structure of a report, or even an academic paper.

After this second placement comes the sixth stage, the final period of remote collaboration. This involves the group completing the analysis of data and collectively drafting the final publication that will present the←34 | 35→ results of the PEERS project. The table below summarizes the stages in creating a PEERS project.

Table 1. Stages in Creating a Project Within the Framework of the PEERS Program.





Before the beginning of the academic year, two teacher-researchers from partner institutions agree on a theme and define a student audience. These are then contacted and a selection is made.


Team building and analysis

At the beginning of the academic year the students from the international group get to know one another with the help of ICT and Web 2.0 tools. They discuss the theme, refining this with the teacher-researchers, and prepare the first placement.


First one-week placement

The first placement in the partner institution usually occurs at the end of October. Three kinds of activity are organized: work on the content of the project, sociocultural activities, and recreational activities outside of work.


Remote collaboration

Between the end of October and the second placement collaboration is online with the help of ICT and Web 2.0 tools. Activities are organized according to the objectives and the work schedule.


Second one-week placement

A second placement during the spring semester enables the international group to continue their collaboration face-to-face. As with the first placement, three kinds of activities are organized with a focus placed on the analysis of data collected, and the drafting of the structure for the final report.


Remote analysis of results

The remote collaboration aims to present the report for the end of the project in its definitive form. When time allows: preparation of presentations and communications, and ideally plans to publish an academic paper.

An opportunity to share results and practices has been organized at the end of the academic year from the very first session of the PEERS program in 2011–12. This event, called the “PEERS Summer Symposium”, occurred for the first time in June 2012 during the 17th Congress of the World Association for Educational Research (WAER) at the University of Reims in France (Gilles, Gutmann & Tedesco, 2012b). In following years, the←35 | 36→ PEERS Summer Symposium was organized in different countries: in July 2013 in the United States at the San Diego State University, in July 2014 in Belgium in partnership with SwissCore5 in Brussels, in June-July 2015 in Switzerland at the HEP Vaud in Lausanne, and in May-June 2016 in Turkey as part of the 18th Congress of the WAER at Anadolu University in Eskisehir. On each occasion, these PEERS Summer Symposiums have allowed teacher-researchers interested in this approach to share their results and to reflect on the supervision and management of the international groups at the heart of the PEERS program.

Since the academic year 2011–12, no fewer than 81 PEERS projects have taken place following the initiative of the HEP Vaud. Up until 2015–16, the HEP Vaud has always been a partner in each project. From 2011 until 2017, more than 480 students have been involved in the PEERS program. The table below shows the evolution of PEERS partners since the HEP Vaud began the program in 2011–12.

Table 2. The Evolution of PEERS Partners 2011–2017.


←36 | 37→


←37 | 38→


We should also highlight the great diversity of themes covered. These have included, for example, the “Lesson Study” approach in mathematics, the comparison between different sports in Physical Education, multicultural education, bilingualism in core teaching, Freinet’s pedagogy, the grading and assessment of the transfer of learning during training, musical pedagogy and psychology, education for sustainable development, and the role of the teaching of science on the learning of marginalized students, etc.

Aside from the various reports produced from each project, the PEERS program has also resulted in a number of different publications and communications (Gilles, Gutmann & Tedesco, 2012a, 2012b; Gilles, 2014; Gilles & Soldevila, 2014a, 2014b; Gilles, 2015; Gilles & Soldevila, 2016; Chochard, Gilles & Rupp-Nantel, 2016), which have led to interest from European and North American associations who are active in the domain of international exchanges, such as ERACON, Comenius, NETT, and CBIE.←38 | 39→

4. Six Basic Challenges for the PEERS Program

For some twenty years, the internationalization of higher education has become a field of study in its own right for researchers and practitioners seeking to analyze, explain, and propose internationalization strategies within institutions (Bohm, Davis, Meares & Pearce, 2002; Agarwal, Said, Sehoole, Sirozie & de Wit, 2007; Townsend & Bates, 2007; Cornelius, 2012).

The world of teacher training has not escaped from this trend, notably due to a growing awareness that teachers are the actors at the center of a high quality education for all who must encourage children and adolescents to gain the essential knowledge and skills for social and economic integration in a globalized and changing society (Mahon, 2010; Sieber & Mantel, 2012; Leutwyler, 2014).

4.1 Developing the Intercultural Competencies of Future Teachers

The effects of globalization put back at the forefront the question of the intercultural competencies of future teachers (Pease, 1993; Davis, 1997; Kitsantas & Meyers, 2002; McCormack, 2004; Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005; Reyes & Quezada, 2010). In a European context, Dooly and Villanueva (2006) have this to say on the subject:

The European Union has recognized the need for promoting social and political change through education. Special emphasis has been placed on the role of schools in personal and human development, along with the need for greater understanding of the diversity, which makes up the European Union and throughout the world. This means that teachers are now expected to involve learners in the process of acquiring knowledge of their own culture(s) as well as other cultures (p. 223).

In the same vein, following a large review of the literature aiming to identify the advantages offered by international exchanges during teacher training, Leutwyler (2014) indicates that it is commonly accepted that three facets of intercultural competencies of future teachers are affected:←39 | 40→ knowledge concerned with an understanding of the influence of culture on teaching, an awareness of the cultural diversity within the world of education, and finally the feeling of personal effectiveness when managing a multicultural class. Leutwyler (op. cit., p. 112) also notes that some studies show a greater motivation to teach after an international exchange. Some positive effects on the competencies of future teachers with regards to the intercultural management of classes have also been observed in the literature (Deardorff 2006; Dooly & Villanueva, 2006; Parkes & Griffiths, 2008; Kissock & Richardson (2010); Quezada, 2010). As with most international exchange programs, the PEERS program offers the possibility for trainee teachers to develop their intercultural competencies, which will be particularly useful when they are faced with managing groups of multicultural learners.

4.2 Training Future Teachers to Work Collaboratively at a Distance Through Real-Life Situations in a Globalized Connected World

Another facet of the globalized world in which we live is the omnipresence of ICT in the activities of citizens from the majority of developed or emerging countries, or even in developing countries when the telecommunications infrastructures and access to the internet allow for this. The youngest among us who were born after the digital revolution at the end of the twentieth century could easily even forget that the advent of digital networks and the web are recent inventions. On the other hand, their older counterparts, who were born and lived before this digital era, have difficulties mastering the codes, and the technical and sociocultural changes in what seems to be a new world. Some feel that they are falling behind the new “plugged in” generation. This turmoil and rapid evolution has an impact on our educative systems that were thought out and organized during the last century. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, teachers are confronted with children and adolescents who are constantly connected “Digital Natives”, as they are termed by Prensky (2001), who claims that there has been a radical change at the heart of student populations:←40 | 41→

It is amazing to me how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its causes. Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach […]. A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a “singularity” – an event, which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. This so-called “singularity” is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century (p. 1).

To learn to effectively teach the young people who have been born during the digital era, we must re-think our approach to the training of future teachers. It is crucial for them to have real-life experiences of collaborative work at a distance and to allow them to develop competencies in this domain so that they become more effective and credible when they are managing pedagogical activities with their “Digital Native” students. Working in a team at a distance with the help of ICT is a strong component of the PEERS program which offers the opportunity of a real-life experience of online collaboration within the framework of a collective research focused project. This aspect of the PEERS program is original and innovative, and distinguishes it from the majority of other international exchange programs.

4.3 Developing a Culture of Continual Improvement of Didactic and Pedagogical Activities Through the Reflective Thinking and the Spirit of Research

The “continuous quality improvement” approach, theorized and put in practice within organizations, as discussed in the work of Edward Deming (1986) deserves, in our opinion, to be discussed and developed within the contexts of training and the practices of trainers and learners. The idea that it is better to adopt processes that generate quality, rather than control assessments after the fact, can be applied to all kinds of activities, including teaching and training. The process of the acquisition and implementation of competencies within the context of learning pathways fits well with a continuous improvement approach when we propose implementing an approach of reflection and self-←41 | 42→evaluation with regard to the quality of knowledge acquired during training and its transfer to professional activities. This approach is in fact commonly practiced in teacher training institutions, when reflective thinking, as outlined by the reflective practice approach, is recommended to teacher trainees (Schön, 1993). These reflective exercises are also recommended by a number of researchers who highlight their importance (Day, 2001; Paquay & Sirota, 2001; Zay, 2001; Wentzel, 2008; Dervent, 2015). Within such a framework, it seems essential to us that student teachers are actively involved in the research of the teacher-researchers who are training them. The position of Sayac (2013) illustrates our view in this regard very well:

The initiation into research proposed to teachers in the context of their initial training is not, in itself, a specific part of training, but it targets the same objective of the development of reflective analysis through placing in parallel or within a co-construction the position of the reflective practitioner and the position of the researcher who we want to initiate the students (p. 3).

In a similar vein, we agree with the position of Schön (1993, p. 25): “the knowledge from experience in class and at school builds into a spirit of research that develops the exercise of reflective analysis”. Beyond the initiation into research and the co-construction of new knowledge, by allowing them to participate in an international R&I project, we are reinforcing these training practices during the learning pathways of our students. It is a question of allowing trainee teachers, through the PEERS program, to begin to take the steps of the continuous improvement of their pedagogical and didactic activities based on reflective practices and guided by the spirit of research that they acquire progressively in the course of the project, and of which they are active participants alongside their teacher-researchers within the international group.

Parallel to the aspects that we have just mentioned within the context of student training, the initiative towards internationalization that we are proposing also responds to the needs of our teacher-researchers in teacher-training university institutions.←42 | 43→

4.4 Supporting Efforts to Put Research-Training in Place and Build New Relationships Within Practice Through PEERS Projects

In the context of “universitarization of teacher training (Vanhulst & al., 2012), trainers in teacher training institutions have been progressively transformed into teacher-researchers within universities of teacher training. Within institutions that have evolved in the same way as the HEP Vaud, professors are now participating in the building of the knowledge that they are charged with teaching, which brings to the fore the question of the connections between knowledge derived from their research and knowledge derived from teacher practice in the field. Altet (2012) insists upon the importance of the connections between these different forms of knowledge and the construction of the professional identities of trainee teachers. She outlines what we feel is a key concept within the framework of the PEERS program, “Building another relationship to practice through research”:

In this respect, knowledge from research allows one to build another relationship to practice and to develop, through reflection, a cautious attitude, analytical thinking, and a ‘praxis’, that helps one to move away from conventional wisdom (Altet, 2012, p. 40).

By supporting collaborative work between students and teacher-researchers, and at the same time encouraging partnerships with practitioners in the field, PEERS projects contribute to the weaving of new relationships between these categories of actors co-producing knowledge within international groups.

4.5 Offering a Framework for the Development of Competencies for the Management of International Academic Projects for Teacher-Researchers

In a globalized world, the universitarization of teacher-training institutions such as the HEP Vaud means that they are also charged with developing international relations more than they did in the past. This←43 | 44→ means developing partnerships with other teacher training institutions, notably in the field of research, and encouraging their teacher-researchers to become actively involved with this by instigating or participating in international research projects. The section of the 2012–17 action plan concerned with the strategy “Opening up more to the outside world” thus states:

We intend to develop international relationships and the mobility of teachers and students to ensure the enrichment of HEP Vaud training programs and research, to promote its research and professional output, and to reinforce its presence at the international level (Vanhulst, Petitpierre et Macherel, 2012, p. 44).

Participation in networks and international partnerships is also taken into account with regard to promotions. Teacher-researchers are thus made aware of the importance of developing these research partnerships with colleagues from foreign institutions, and have a close interest in the possibilities offered by exchange and mobility programs that target the academic body. In this context, the PEERS program offers new possibilities that respond to the needs of teacher-researchers: they work on an international project focused on research with a colleague from a partner institution, and considerably develop their skills for managing international R&I projects through concrete experiences during the academic year.

4.6 Promoting International Professional and Research Publications

The ultimate goal of projects led by international groups participating in PEERS programs is to share the results of their research. As contexts differ widely from one project to the next, some teacher-researchers will produce a report where others will go as far as publishing results within an international academic journal. The PEERS program offers a stimulating framework for the sharing of results and for publication, which is fundamental to all researchers. The implementation of a PEERS project allows the ideas and approaches used to be enriched through argument and discussion. The results obtained are also communicated←44 | 45→ and then developed and enriched by teacher-researchers from partner institutions to provide material for international publications in professional or research journals. The PEERS program represents an opportunity to add to one’s publication portfolio, which now plays a fundamental role during the different stages of an academic career as teacher-training institutions have become more university-like in their approach.

In terms of effectiveness, traditional international exchange programs of the “one semester abroad” kind do not allow participants to experience the six fundamental challenges that we have just described (4.1–4.6) and which show the richness of the Student and Teacher-Researchers Social Networks Project (PEERS) run since 2011 by the HEP Vaud in Switzerland in partnership with the institutions from its international network.

In synthesis, we have summarized the objectives of the PEERS program with the help of the schema below, distinguishing between those concerning students (teacher trainees), and those concerning the teacher-researchers who train them in a university context.


Figure 1. The objectives of the PEERS program (Projets d’Enseignants-Chercheurs et d’Etudiants en Réseaux Sociaux, or Student and Teacher-Researchers Social Networks Project) within teacher-training institutions that are becoming university-like in a globalized, multicultural, and connected world.←45 | 46→

On the basis of these reflections informed by the accumulated experience of six years (2011–17), we propose the following definition:

The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors, the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to foster opportunities for international publications, and to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects.

5. Conclusions

The duration of a PEERS program is fixed at one academic year. This allows for the development of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects, which in most cases go through different phases of scientific research, from the formulation of a theoretical framework, questions and hypotheses, through to the drafting of conclusions, the development of data collection instruments, the collection of data itself, and the analysis of results. To experience and complete these stages in the company of teacher-researchers and within an international context is extremely useful for the training of our future teachers. The environment proposed by the PEERS program favors working towards continuous quality←46 | 47→ improvement of their professional activities, by guiding them to exercise the reflective practice and research spirit necessary to the success of their professional activities.

Active involvement in “full-scale” R&I projects is also very motivating for the students. In these conditions, the use of Web 2.0 tools occurs in a real-life context where remote collaboration would be impossible without the use of technology. Motivation and the real-life situation accelerate and increase deep learning. The international context and the nature of R&I also allow for the development of team project management skills, and to become familiar with collaborative work online, competencies that are particularly useful in a globalized and connected world in the beginning of the twenty-first century.

All this is supplemented by the traditional intercultural dimension of an international exchange program. During their remote exchanges and the placements with their partners, students become aware of realities that are sometimes quite different to their own, in particular when partners come from developing countries (around one third of the projects). According to Leutwyler (2014), three aspects of intercultural competencies of trainee teachers are affected by international exchange programs: knowledge concerned with an understanding of the influence of culture on teaching, an awareness of the cultural diversity within the world of education, and the feeling of personal effectiveness when managing a multicultural class. These intercultural dimensions are particularly present during social activities included in the one-week placements with the partner. The aspect of mutually providing accommodation reinforces the discovery of the reality of everyday life for “the other”. To help another person discover your region, explain its cultural and socioeconomic particularities, and share moments of friendship are all aspects of the PEERS program that enrich the participants and leave lasting traces on the development of their intercultural competencies.

For teacher-researchers from teacher-training institutions that are becoming university-like, the possibility of developing their collaboration network is one of the possibilities offered by standard mobility programs. However, beyond the discovery of other research horizons, the opportunity to manage an international project involving←47 | 48→ trainee teachers and practitioners as well as the chance to publish results with their project partners constitute the particular advantages and innovative aspects of the PEERS program.

It is thus evident that the PEERS program distinguishes itself from other international exchange programs in the world of teacher training. It is situated at the heart of key issues that it tries to connect: support for research and innovation carried out by teacher-researchers, improved understanding of training-research-practice, and the development of international collaborations. All of these efforts undertaken to develop and implement a new form of internationalizing teacher training through the PEERS program have the same goal: to contribute to the improvement of the training of our future teachers at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We harbor the hope that the PEERS program will contribute to the development of competencies within them that will allow them to become more educated and informed people, able to collaborate intelligently and exercise critical thinking in a globalized, multicultural, and connected world.←48 | 49→

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5 SwissCore is the Swiss Contact Office for European Research Innovation and Education. It acts as a bridge between Swiss and European knowledge institutions and supports Swiss participation in European knowledge programs (<>).