eCoaching Tip 37 Pausing, Reflecting and Pruning Strategies

February 23 2007 (Refreshed July 6, 2012)

eCoaching Tip 37:  Pausing, Reflecting and Pruning Strategies

Expectations of learning increase rapidly with the passage of just a few weeks of a course. Learners often begin feeling overwhelmed and lost amidst the flood of content and increasing complexity of the ideas. What teaching and learning strategies can help at this stage of a course? Here is a cluster of strategies that increase learning and reduce stress: pausing, reflecting and pruning experiences.

As a way of getting started, let’s model a pausing strategy and return for a moment to the recent tip on cognitive presence (Tip 36). As you will recall, cognitive presence means that you and your students explicitly and publicly construct and confirm meaning through sustained discourse.  If you have not had time to use that concept or begin to build it into your course, it is good to simply take forward the key phrase of “constructing and confirming meaning.”

This tip on pausing, reflecting and pruning strategies reminds us that while the process of learning requires constructing and confirming meaning, that learning also includes the processes of reflectingand pruning. Our brains and memories are simply not designed for remembering everything (Schacter, 2001). This fact is very comforting as we get older as well.

Many of our new technologies, such as smart phones, tablets, cameras, and GPS trackers and the world of apps are going beyond capturing key life moments to supporting “life-logging,” a term used to describe systems that document every conversation, movement, etc.  A 2007 interviewwith Emily Nussbaum, a contributing editor of the New York magazine, on NPR’s Talk of the Nation explores the issues inherent in life-logging and the shifts in privacy perspective that appear to be occurring. The new almost inescapable phenomenon of one’s timeline being public on Facebook is even starting to do this life-logging for us.

Just as we cringe, at least, I do, at the thought of every moment of my life being captured and recorded, we may well cringe at every moment of our teaching and learning processes being recorded as well.  Yet, there is a silver lining here.  The journaling and blogging tools that are now almost ubiquitous can be very effective tools to log our learning.  We can start with what we don’t know and record our paths to learning core concepts.  Blogs and journals can be public or private or a mix.

Learning, as well as life, is generally messy.  When my children were young, I left the kitchen to them as they baked or cooked; I couldn’t bear to watch. Yet it is how they learned and did just fine.

Similarly, in the online environment, where so much is being captured, discussed and presented, it is a good thing to watch some of the time, but not all the time.

Here are some pausing, reflecting and pruning strategies to design into your courses.

Pause and Reflect Strategies

  • Design in pausing and reflecting — and summarizing— times. One technique that is very useful for this is the “discussion-wrapping” tip that was described in Tip 25.  As you will recall discussion wrapping is something that you can do, individual students can do or very small teams of 2 can do.  Essentially, it is a summary of key ideas weaving in insights and observations by the learners.
  • Hold question and answer and concept mapping sessions using the live classroom synchronous tools. This is a very effective way of hearing in real time what your students are thinking about the course content. Faculty who have started using this technology report that it is their and their students’ favorite way of gathering and thinking together.
  • Set up a “Pausing and Reflecting” forum. Ask your students to focus on what questions they have at this point in the course. Have them share what is confusing or most helpful to them. The tip (36) on cognitive presence mentioned that the higher level phases of developing useful knowledge include integration and resolution. Integration includes “ reaching some group or team convergences by connecting ideas, identifying relationships and patterns, and proposing solutions. Resolution is when “the group or larger community applies and tests solutions in the real world scenarios. Encourage learners to think and describe their learning in these terms.


Boettcher, J. V. E-Coaching Tip 36 (2007, 2012) Cognitive Presence in Online Courses — What is it?Retrieved July 6 2012 from

Nussbaum, E. (2007). Life-Logging and the Generation Gap over Privacy.   Retrieved July 6, 2012, from

Schacter, D. L. (2001). The Seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. New York: Houghton-Mifflin. A concise summary is at

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by