Collaborative learning is usually interpreted as ed-speak for working in small groups outside of class to accomplish a project of some significance. These types of exercises require that instructors assign groups, determine how to grade the group if members contribute unevenly, and commit significant time to a single project.

However, collaborative learning exercises can be efficiently employed as in-class exercises, even in large lecture sections, with the help of clickers.

One easy way to incorporate collaborative learning is to use the Think-Pair-Share technique. With Think-Pair-Share, the instructor poses a conceptual question and asks students to think about possible answers. After a minute or so of thinking, students are asked to discuss with nearby classmates why they selected the answer they did.

This technique acts as a catalyst for in-class discussions. Discussing a new concept with others gives the student a chance to try out his/her understanding of the new concept and receive feedback. It also provides an opportunity for a struggling student to hear an explanation of the concept from a peer who may be better able to communicate with the student (a foundation of peer-led instruction).

As with any formative assessment technique, the instructor should set up the exercise by explaining what will happen, the purpose of the exercise, and what students are expected to do.

Adding clickers can extend the advantages of a Think-Pair-Share approach. Here’s the process I use in class:

  • Ask a fairly difficult conceptual clicker question, possibly one that exploits a known misconception of the topic. Ideally you would have no more than 30-40 percent of students get the right answer. This technique also works with qualitative questions by forcing the students to commit to and defend a position or answer.
  • After students respond to the question, you can choose to either show or hide the initial results. I prefer to hide the results so that students won’t assume that the answer with the highest total must be correct.
  • Ask students to discuss with the four or five people nearest them which answers they chose and why, in an attempt to convince others that their answer is correct. I usually allow 2-3 minutes for discussion and will travel around the room to check in on various clusters of students. In my experience, the first time you do this the students will need a bit of coaxing to actually talk with each other.
  • Re-poll the question. After polling has finished, the clicker system will let you display a comparison between the answers from both attempts. In theory, students will coalesce around the correct answer. This also gives them feedback on how the class did as a whole. Re-polling also serves to calm the class back down as they await the results of the new poll.
  • You can now ask a similar concept question on a quiz or exam later in the course.

Think-Pair-Share and Assessment

By building this technique into your teaching, you will have completed a formative (in-class, ungraded) assessment and a summative (quiz/exam) assessment, and you’ll have statistics that document initial understanding, peer-led instruction improvement (always very high and probably not very useful), and actual retention of the concept.

Coupled with a pre-assessment of the students’ comprehension, you will have a better understanding of the effectiveness of your instructional methods as well as plenty of data to report for your T&P assessment matrix.


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