EPIC Innovations: Think-Pair-Share with a Real-Time Polling Twist

Instructor Name: Carissa Eisler

Course Title: Transport Phenomena I
Department: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Enrollment: 100
Level: Undergraduate

General Category of Innovation: Active Learning in Large Classes

Description: This innovation augments the traditional think-pair-share process by structuring the “think” step. To give students a chance to apply lecture material during the lesson, the instructor poses a multiple-choice question, gives students time to think, and then asks students to select a response via a real-time polling platform. (In a smaller class, this would also work with responses submitted on paper.) Students then turn to 2-4 peers and discuss (60-90 seconds) which answer they selected and why. The instructor invites students to share (with the whole class) which response they originally selected, whether they changed their mind after talking to their peers, and their reasoning.

Rationale for Innovation

I noticed that passive learning in big engineering classes was making it difficult for students to grab onto new or nuanced concepts. And this was especially true for topics where there’s not a simple, real-world metaphor to help students visualize what’s going on. During my office hours, I found myself having to revisit foundational concepts that students hadn’t grasped from lecture so I knew I needed to help them engage more in the learning.

Also, something I’ve realized about the way I learn is that having to commit to an answer and risk getting it wrong helps me figure out what I do and don’t understand. And when I end up getting it wrong, it really motivates me to figure out my mistake and how to fix it. There seems to be something powerful about taking the risk of locking in a particular response… and then seeing if it’s correct. I think when students learn passively, without ever “testing out their understanding,” their comprehension suffers. I wanted to find a way to force students to commit to an answer and risk getting it wrong… without jeopardizing their grade. This lines up with what I always tell students: in-class activities are the perfect time to mess up and learn from it. I wanted an innovation that structured and made the most of that process.

Intended Effect of Innovation

I wanted this innovation to do a few things. First, I hoped it would lead to better conversations during the “pair” part of think-pair-share. I wanted to see more peer conversations starting with, “I picked __ because…” and fewer starting with, “I wasn’t sure how to start.” Second, I wanted to see more students participating in the “share” part of the activity. My thinking was that better “pair” conversations would have a confidence-building effect, leading to more people feeling able to engage in the whole-group discussion. Finally, I hoped students’ exams would show them using a more thoughtful process of problem-solving. Often, when students are unsure how to approach a problem, they just write everything they can think of. Perhaps consistent use of this innovation during the quarter would lead to ,more thoughtful, strategic work.

Resources for Faculty Considering this Innovation

Research that Supports this Innovation