This activity has been submitted to the Great Ideas for Teaching Students (G.I.F.T.S) series of the National Communication Association and is currently under review.
Going Digital with “Think-Pair-Share”Using Blogs to Generate and Host Online Discussion
Heather Suzanne Woods
When used effectively, discussion-based activities can help students develop collaborative, critical communication skills in preparation for participation in civil society by “foster[ing] an appreciation among participants for diversity of opinion…[and] act[ing] as a catalyst to helping people take informed action in the world” (Brookfield & Preskill, 2005, p. 6). Instructors (or institutions) interested in developing a civically-minded student who participates in the world around him/her can aid in this development by offering opportunities to practice communicative and deliberative skills in the classroom (either online or offline.) However, facilitating and participating in discussion can be a challenge for both instructors and students. Students may respond to discussion-based assignments with fear or anxiety or may have trouble verbalizing their thoughts in the context of the classroom. Some students’ voices may be overshadowed by other students who are more willing to participate. Even students who understand the value of discussion may be disinclined to participate in an activity for which they receive no grade. Instructors may have difficulty rousing students to participate in discussion or have problems evaluating their contributions. Fortunately, employing digital technologies in the (blended) classroom can alleviate some of these concerns for both the student and the instructor.
This GIFTS submission suggests mobilizing a foundational discussion strategy, “think-pair-share,” and pairing it with online communication tools such as blogs in order to facilitate and record discussion in traditional and/or blended classrooms. I propose that instructors employ the “think-pair-share” strategy in the classroom and instruct students to use blogs they create and sustain to a) record their discussions with partners or small groups and b) communicate with others using the “comments” section of the blog post. More detailed instructions are included below.
- Students will need access to the Internet and to a blog hosting site such as WordPress. Blogs are created in groups of at least two. (Note: if security/privacy is an issue, students may create the blogs anonymously/with pseudonyms, so long as the instructor is given some form of identifying information/the link to the site.)
- Several sets of questions or topics developed by the instructor, to be discussed and documented by students in the classroom/on their blogs.
- Have students create blogs with their small groups such that each group has one blog. The instructor can demonstrate by creating her/his own blog on a projector. Make sure each student in each group has access to the authorship function of the group blog.
- Have students share the links to their blogs with the instructor, who can then distribute the links to the entire class.
- When you’re ready for students to make their first blog post, distribute questions or topics for discussion (These can be given in advance of the discussion or in class-time. Producing and disseminating questions/topics ahead of time allows more time for the collaborative discussion in small groups/as a whole and helps students prepare for class with those specific questions in mind. The benefit of distributing the topics in class is that students must be prepared for any sort of question, and you have time to engage with them one-on-one.)
- Instruct the students to answer the questions or brainstorm on the topics on their own for a set amount of time. This is the “think” portion of “think-pair-share.” (2-5 minutes, or less if you’ve instructed them to come with thoughts already prepared. Instructors can “drop in” to check on students during this time period, or make it a time for quiet contemplation. I’ve played soft music in the past to help achieve a thoughtful environment.)
- Instruct the students to share their thoughts with their assigned peer or group, recording each student’s perspective and the results of the discussion on the blog. This is the “pair-share” portion of “think-pair-share.” (5-7 minutes, or as needed.)
- Optional: Initiate an in-class discussion based upon small-group discussion (as long as needed) or instruct them to read students’ blogs at a later time.
- Ask students to access, read, and comment on peers’ blogs. One way to do this is to ask each individual student to comment on two other groups’ blogs, but there is room for adaptation.
Student Learning Outcomes:
At the end of this assignment, students should be able to
- communicate their own viewpoint/reasoning to multiple audiences (self, peers, instructor, and potentially the Web)
- find and communicate about commonalities and differences in multiple, related viewpoints
- respect and respond respectfully to differences in perspective found online
- reflect on the discursive process of discussion, including on the dynamics of collaborative communication
- represent themselves and others in the digital sphere
- students experience the benefits of discussion with a peer or small group, and, at the end of the semester, they also have written documentation of their thoughts and contributions.
- The practice of translating thought or discourse of self and others into written format adds a secondary cognitive layer for remembering and learning. Students have access to their otherwise ephemeral thoughts long after the course has ended.
- Both students and instructors are able to assess the verbal and written elements of this activity by viewing the collaboratively created blog as a journal or log of their contributions. Assigning this online journal a grade (perhaps a portion of a participation grade) is a way for students to understand the value of their discussion. (In the past, students have said that they took discussion more seriously when they knew how it was being graded.)
- Students who are more reticent to speak aloud in class may find the blog post a more comfortable option for engaging. (Very quiet students have surprised me in this way!)
- Giving students an opportunity to comment on others’ reflective blog posts (for a grade, for extra credit points, or not) allows students to connect their thoughts on a particular subject to others’, demonstrates and reinforces repeated themes in course content, and prompts students to engage with others in a format they are already quite familiar with.
- If needed, (the discussions get hostile, students seem disconnected from content, students plagiarize) the instructor has the opportunity to make comments a “teaching moment” for lessons about civic engagement and sharing online.