What Type of Debrief is Best for Learning during Think-Pair-Shares?


  • Martin Barrett Carnegie Mellon University
  • Chad Hershock Carnegie Mellon University
  • Michael McCarthy Carnegie Mellon University
  • Michael Melville Carnegie Mellon University
  • Joe Mertz Carnegie Mellon University




active learning, Think-pair-share, large courses, explanation feedback


Copious research demonstrates the benefits of adding active learning to traditional lectures to enhance learning and reduce failure/withdrawal rates. However, many questions remain about how best to implement active learning to maximize student outcomes. This paper investigates several “second generation” questions regarding infusing active learning, via Think-Pair-Share (TPS), into a large lecture course in Computer Science. During the “Share” phase of TPS, what is the best way to debrief the associated course concepts with the entire class? Specifically, does student learning differ when instructors debrief the rationale for every answer choice (full debrief) versus only the correct answer (partial debrief)? And does the added value for student outcomes vary between tasks requiring recall versus deeper comprehension and/or application of concepts? Regardless of discipline, these questions are relevant to instructors implementing TPS with multiple-choice questions, especially in large lectures. Similar to prior research, when lectures included TPS, students performed significantly better (~13%) on corresponding exam items. However, students’ exam performance depended on both the type of debrief and exam questions. Students performed significantly better (~5%) in the full debrief condition than the partial debrief condition. Additionally, benefits of the full debrief condition were significantly stronger (~5%) for exam questions requiring deeper comprehension and/or application of underlying Computer Science processes, compared to simple recall. We discuss these results and lessons learned, providing recommendations for how best to implement TPS in large lecture courses in STEM and other disciplines.


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Author Biographies

Martin Barrett, Carnegie Mellon University

Martin Barrett is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Institute of Software Research and Heinz College of Public Policy and Information Management at Carnegie Mellon University (USA). His teaching focuses Information Systems and Computer Science.

Chad Hershock, Carnegie Mellon University

Chad Hershock is the Director of Faculty & Graduate Student Programs at the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University (USA). His work supports the adoption of evidenced-based pedagogy and SoTL.

Michael McCarthy, Carnegie Mellon University

Michael McCarthy is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Heinz College of Public Policy and Information Management at Carnegie Mellon University (USA). His teaching focuses Information Systems.

Michael Melville, Carnegie Mellon University

Michael Melville is a Data Science Research Associate at the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University (USA). His work supports the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning conducted by instructors.

Joe Mertz, Carnegie Mellon University

Joe Mertz is a Teaching Professor in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Heinz College of Public Policy and Information Management at Carnegie Mellon University (USA).


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How to Cite

Barrett, Martin, Chad Hershock, Michael McCarthy, Michael Melville, and Joe Mertz. 2021. “What Type of Debrief Is Best for Learning During Think-Pair-Shares?”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 9 (1):45-60. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.9.1.5.