While this blog has transformed a number of times over the last decade based on my interests, one of the things I return to the most often is a strong interest in pedagogy. Most of my current “day job” as a full-time instructor, in fact, is concerned around how to teach certain topics and ways to approach more technical concepts for different audiences. Most recently, mostly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic but some before that, I’ve been asked to re-design multiple undergraduate courses for either fully-online or partial, hybrid models of teaching. Because I taught faculty how to use digital tools at a previous institution and have been developing online resources for a decade now, I’m usually the go-to person for creating online resources or converting an existing undergraduate course from in-person to another model for my current department.
There are a number of different frameworks and models to use, depending on the course, context, and institution (and sometimes even learning management system!), but I have found certain micro-patterns I like to use when adapting a course that usually manifest in some way or another in most of the courses I have worked on over the last few years. This post is (the first of hopefully a recurring series) on a model I like for discussion posts I call Make-Reflect-Reply.
Based on the Think-Pair-Share Model
When I used to work at another institution, I was part of a group that would put on workshops multiple times a month to train faculty in how to use different tools or on pedagogy models. One of the patterns we would use, and people encounter on a pretty regular basis at conferences and other workshop-like structures, is called Think-Pair-Share. (There is some debate about if it is a model, strategy, or technique, depending on what source you are reading, but I like “model” for this post, so that’s what I am using.)
Parts of the model were first introduced by Lyman (1981) as part of a chapter called “The Responsive Classroom Discussion” in the edited collection Mainstreaming Digest: A Collection of Faculty and Student Papers. However, most people cite the later Lyman (1987) paper sharing its title: Think-Pair-Share: An Expanding Teaching Technique.
Generally, the Think-Pair-Share model as it is now used works in the following way:
- Think: The instructor provides a prompt and asks learners to individually consider a question, topic, or concept for a short amount of time. Depending on the learners and context, this might be anywhere from two minutes to update to 10 minutes.
- Pair: Learner are paired together. Depending on the context, this might be actual pairs, two people, but could also be groups of people or everyone at a table or other seating arrangement. Each group is then given a short amount of time to discuss what was considered as part of the previous Think process for some short amount of time of anywhere between five to 10 minutes.
- Share: After the Pair process has ended, groups are asked to share (usually through speaking) their consensus or refinement of ideas based on the discussion as part of the Pair and as initially created by the Think process.
The Think-Pair-Share model is incredibly effective for in-person teaching and has the built-in advantages of not only having learners discuss a topic, but also have them hear what other people come up with as well. However, as it comes to online pedagogy, the model does not quite map as well.
My current teaching load is dominated by technical topics. I teach things like full-stack web development, how to create 2D games in Unity, and the basics of the Unreal game engine. I also teach across a number of different modalities including large in-person (upwards of 90 students), even larger online (upwards of 180 students), and some hybrid classrooms (anywhere from 20-30 in-person with some students remote). As it comes to the Think-Pair-Share model, this does not always translate to technical concepts and across teaching remotely. There are ways, via functionality like breakout rooms and in-classroom cameras, to make it mostly work, but I have not had the same luck with teaching remotely using the model I’ve found with its application for in-person settings.
For my more technical learners, I like what I have adapted as the Make-Reflect-Reply model. Following the same general process, I prefer to foreground “making” and “reflecting” as primary verbs as part of the process. This also allows for pairing students, if possible across technology, but centralizes creating as a key part of the model.
Like the Think-Pair-Share model, Make-Reflect-Reply works as along the same pattern, but has slightly different steps:
- Make: The instructor provides a problem, scenario, or set of tasks and asks individual learners to create a possible solution for how to solve or approach the issue or to experience something new to them. This might consist of writing pseudo-code, using different technologies, or including possible tools. Like Think-Pair-Share, this can be timed for in-person tasks or incorporated as part of a larger online assignment.
- Reflect: Each learner is then asked to reflect on their solution. Would it solve the problem? Would it create additional challenges? What did they experience during the session or as part of the creation?
- Reply: Learners are then asked to reply to the reflections of other students. Would they approach the problem or scenario in the same way? What would they change? Does learning about a different solution affect how they would make the same solution in the future?
While technically-focused, the Make-Reflect-Reply model need not to used exclusively for technical projects. I have also used the same pattern for assignments based on performing internet research on a topic (Make), creating a discussion post on what was found (Reflect), and then responding to other students about the approaches or solutions from other students (Reply) as well.
I recently had to re-design a course on the Evolution of Video Games and found myself repeating the same pattern. Here is an online activity following this model that asks the learner to create something, post about their experiences, and then respond to other students.
There are a large number of massively-multiplayer online (MMO) games available for those interested in playing one of them. Some cost money, but many are free or have limited trial periods.
For this activity, play or watch at least 30 minutes of a MMO game you have not seen or played before from any genre, publisher, or on any platform. Post about the experience and then return to reply to others on their experiences.
Play or watch at least 30 minutes of a MMO and take notes on what happened during the session.
(If you are unsure of what qualifies as an MMO, consider looking through the List of massively multiplayer online role-playing games, List of massively multiplayer online first-person shooter games, List of massively multiplayer online real-time strategy games, or List of massively multiplayer online turn-based strategy games.)
In a post of at least 150 words, answer at least two of the following questions:
- What character options does the game have? (If it has character creation options, and you used them, note what you chose.)
- Who generally plays the game? Did you see people starting out or more advanced players? Was it hard to tell?
- How did other players react? Did any help or hinter you in some way? How?
- If the game had a chat, what was the experience with using the chat? What type of conversations happened?
- What happened during your play or watch session? If you played, what did you do? If you watched, did the person achieve something or perform something notable?
Reply to at least two students. In at least 50 words per reply, answer at least one of the following questions:
- Based on what the student posted, would you play or watch the same game? What about the description of the experience made you (un)interested?
- Have you played or watched the game the student posted about?
- Would you recommend a different game in the same genre? Why?
Reflection on Model (and Online Pedagogy)
While I know many people who have taught online for a long time have developed their own variations of the above pattern, what I always stressed to those I used to train is to more explicit with instructions for online settings. When teaching in-person, a student might contribute in a number of parasocial ways such as nodding, clapping, or talking within a student group. Those same contributions are much harder to articulate in online courses. Instead, I tell instructors to be very explicit in what they want students to do. If the process requires multiple steps, stress what each of those steps are and their requirements. In my example, I list exactly what I want to see (the minimum number of words) and some prompts for reflecting and replying to students. These are not exhaustive, but set the pedagogical “edges” of the assignment and how I will grade it.
My rubrics are based on the primary verbs I used in the assignment description. For example, the MMO assignment has three steps. The two later processes, Reflect and Reply, would appear as gradable criteria for the assignments with a scale based on how close a learner achieved the outlined requirements. Depending on the importance of the assignment within the larger grading categories, this might be a three-scale (lower-risk) or five-scale (higher-risk) rubric where students always get points for their effort toward completing an assignment.
Lyman, F. (1987). Think-Pair-Share: An Expanding Teaching Technique. MAA-CIE Cooperative News 1, 1: 1-2
Lyman, F. (1981). “The Responsive Classroom Discussion.” In A. S. Anderson, ed., Mainstreaming Digest.
College Park, MD: University of Maryland College of Education.