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New Study: Data Shows How a Hands-On Approach to Digital Classrooms Expands Student Learning and Fosters Success

The Global Cities, Inc. Global Scholars program offers insights into how to engage students online as millions continue to attend school remotely

NEW YORK – New research released today by Global Cities, Inc., a Program of Bloomberg Philanthropies, shows that students can build critical global engagement and competency skills and increase their self-confidence through participating in well-conceived digital classrooms—of particular relevance as the COVID-19 pandemic leads to more learning online. The study is of survey responses from more than 8,500 students, ages 10 to 13 in 47 cities around the world, enrolled in the 2018-2019 Global Scholars program—an interactive, yearlong digital learning program with strong support for teacher development. The analysis shows that students gained key attitudes and behaviors, building blocks needed to become globally competent adults.

Far From Remote: Survey Evidence of Student Learning in Digital Classrooms reports analysis of survey data by University of Texas at Austin sociologist of education Catherine Riegle-Crumb. It presents evidence that students’ global competency grew over the course of one year while participating in Global Cities’ Global Scholars program. In the Global Scholars model, classroom teachers around the world integrate the digital curriculum into core academic subjects, or electives, where students work to solve a global problem, completing project-based learning assignments and group projects. While doing research, using different digital tools, and proposing solutions, they draw on experience from their cities. Most importantly, these students interact directly with students from many countries in discussion boards in the secure Global Scholars digital classrooms. This online interaction with their peers clearly motivates students to learn.

The analysis in Far From Remote comes as millions of students across the United States and around the world attend school either partially or completely in a remote setting due to the pandemic. Today, Global Scholars continues to be led by teachers—either in person or, if school buildings are closed, via learning management systems such as Google Classroom. Their instruction prepares students to participate in the Global Scholars digital platform where they have continuous direct engagement with classes around the world.

“Can kids learn in digital classrooms? This research on the Global Scholars program offers a clear answer in the affirmative,” said Marjorie B. Tiven, founder and president of Global Cities, Inc. “By combining teacher-led instruction, a digital curriculum, and student interaction in discussion boards, our research shows kids learning to believe in themselves and their ability to change their communities, completing projects, and sharing knowledge with their peers. The Global Scholars model holds relevant lessons now that schools around the world are using digital platforms for learning.”

Public affairs and political science professor Ester Fuchs of Columbia University, another of the report’s co-authors, pointed to the trove of data documenting Global Cities’ results-driven program. “Global Cities, like all of Bloomberg Philanthropies, relies on rigorous evaluation. We collected empirical data on multiple aspects of student learning, developed metrics, and demonstrated the relevance of this model.”

Riegle-Crumb analyzed pre- and post-program survey responses from more than 8,500 of the 15,698 total students ages 10 to 13 who participated in Global Scholars during the 2018-19 school year. The students who responded to the survey attended public school in 47 different cities across 24 countries and five continents. These students had a broad array of academic abilities, community settings, and initial levels of interest in global issues, yet strong majorities of all students bolstered their self-image as citizens capable of affecting others in their city and around the world, especially the students who started the program with low scores.

Global Scholars was able to make dramatic progress in stimulating and sustaining student interest in global learning. Riegle-Crumb said, “The significant gains for students who started the year with low scores were most striking to me as it shows the program was able to engage these students who self-reported being disengaged in this topic. That’s very meaningful.”

The report reveals four main findings:

1. Dramatic Gains for Low-Scoring Students
Students with low levels of interest and confidence at the beginning of the year reported remarkable progress, including in the attitudes and behaviors that support all learning. On a five-point scale, the average rating for students who initially thought that they could not be successful in class moved from 2.71 to 3.58—indicating that at the end of the program, those students believed they could succeed in school. In addition, students showed the most dramatic progress when it came to confidence in their own abilities to share and discuss global topics. Five percent, or 414 students, initially gave themselves low ratings in this domain, with an average rating 2.06. After the program, their mindset changed dramatically, with an average rating of 3.52.

2. Growth in Global Engagement for All Students
Students were asked if they think their actions affect others in their city and around the world. At the start of the program, students agreed somewhat with these two statements, with an average rating of 3.56 on a five-point scale. After the program, across the whole population, agreement grew to an average of 3.74, a statistically significant difference. Notably, the students who began the year with the lowest scores on global engagement made the most progress, increasing from 1.89 to 3.23, a marked difference in a one-year program.

3. Enduring Enthusiasm for Global Learning
Students were generally enthusiastic at the start of the year, with an average score of 4.28 out of 5. At the end of the program, that enthusiasm largely held fast, with an average score of 4.2. Young adolescents’ interests often change rapidly, and often decline. But in the Global Scholars program research shows that the participating students’ interest in global learning was sustained.

4. Professional Development Produced Results
To ensure teachers can engage deeply with the curriculum, Global Scholars requires ongoing professional development throughout the year. Training sessions are delivered via interactive videoconference at five key moments of the program, before each new curriculum unit. Riegle-Crumb’s analysis shows the training makes a difference in students’ progress in global engagement and confidence in communicating global knowledge, particularly for initially low-scoring students. When they were taught by teachers who participated in all five development sessions, students’ average rating in global engagement jumped from 1.87 to 3.29 post-program. Notably, veteran teachers were more likely than novices to participate in all required sessions, suggesting that they found this opportunity worth their time.

In 2019-20, 17,000 public school students in 52 cities worldwide participated in the program. Cities included Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Buffalo, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, London, Madrid, Mumbai, New York City, Nur-Sultan, Paris, Singapore, Taipei, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Warsaw.

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Media inquiries should be directed to Jody Kaplan,, +1 917 689 9921                    

Global Cities, Inc. has extensive experience using technology to forge connections among students and educators that promote learning, including through our signature program, Global Scholars. We also have gathered empirical evidence that these connections develop the skills that students need to be successful in today’s globalized world. We have shown how technology can offer unique opportunities for learning through dialogue and collaboration. Interaction with peers is an incomparable motivator for kids, whether the connections take place in the local classroom or across national borders. We have trained our worldwide network of educators to supervise and guide student learning on digital platforms and teachers have provided continuous feedback about what works. What we have learned is relevant to all educators—those who are facing the current challenge of teaching students at home, and those who will continue to benefit from technology as they return to physical classrooms—to ensure every child has access to the education they deserve. To learn more about Global Cities, Inc., visit us at or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in more than 570 cities and over 160 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $3.3 billion. For more information, please visit or follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, and TikTok.