Controlled Pacing/alx

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Controlled Pacing
Contributors Christian Köppe, Ralph Niels, Robert Holwerda, Lars Tijsma, Niek Van Diepen, Koen Van Turnhout, René Bakker, Stijn Hoppenbrouwers
Last modification May 15, 2017
Source Köppe, Niels, Holwerda, Tijsma, Van Diepen, Van Turnhout & Bakker (2015)[1]; Köppe et al. (2016)[2]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

You have the preparation material for the students—such as videos, readings, and home assignments—and are beginning the planning per week and/or the in-class meetings. The students likely have different levels of experience.


Students who haven’t done all preparations and students who already did preparations of later parts of the course are both on very different levels, which makes it hard to have in-class meetings which address all students appropriately.

The preparation material for the students is often completely available at the beginning of a course. Good (or more experienced) students often do these preparations in a high speed, either because they are interested where the course is heading (hereby sometimes skipping some of the exercises) or because they grasp the concepts faster than others and want to continue without waiting. Sometimes, students believe they have grasped the concepts faster than others, while this is not the case. This can bring them into trouble when they approach later exercises in a way that differs from how they are expected to.

Other students need more time for preparing themselves and acquiring the desired skills and concepts.

However, usually a course is executed in a fixed period and has a fixed amount of time for class meetings, so the preparations and class meetings are spread evenly over the period. Variations in the speed of walking through the topics of the course may either hinder the faster or the slower students.


Therefore: Control the pace of the students through an explicit planning per in-class meeting and deadlines for submitting the preparations prior to the in-class meeting.

Having such planning (a more concrete version of Seminar Plan (Seminar Plan)) and communicating it to the students makes the pace of the course visible to everyone. This helps all students with checking if they are still "on track". Communicate this planning often and repeatedly, as also suggested in Reference the Plan (Reference the Plan). Present the deadlines and the corresponding preparations for the next meeting at the end of each in-class meeting. Also, stress the risks of making exercises concerning subjects that are not yet discussed to avoid “Running Ahead Problems".

However, even though the material may theoretically be complete enough and offers the material using different media, e.g. screencasts, readers, websites, the lessons, etc., some students still will find it difficult to acquire all knowledge in the assigned amount of time. It is therefore good to offer optional Additional Resources (Additional Resources) that you can use as extra support for knowledge and skill acquisition.

Address the needs of the more experienced or faster students too by offering them optional Challenge Assignments (Challenge Assignments). By handing those students materials that can help them get a broader or deeper insight on the subject matter, they don’t run the risk of getting themselves into trouble by running ahead. Controlled Pacing (Controlled Pacing) is the separation of students in different groups (or classes) by their experience levels. This way, the difference of experience levels of students in the same group will be much smaller which lowers the need for a Controlled Pacing (Controlled Pacing).

In consequence, all students are on a level where they can get most out of the feedback given to them and the exercises done during the in-class meetings. This can be even more improved by applying Add Value Beyond Feedback (Add Value Beyond Feedback). Having a Controlled Pacing (Controlled Pacing) also students with working together and sharing their experiences as parts of peer learning. It also helps them with organizing their study activities.

On the other hand, this controlled pacing makes studying in one’s own speed difficult. This can decrease motivation of both slower and faster students. The patterns Additional Resources (Additional Resources) and Challenge Assignments (Challenge Assignments) address these problems and offer possible solutions. Furthermore, this pattern addresses only the pacing of one course, which might not fit with the pacing of other courses the students follow at the same time. It is therefore necessary to check the pace of the other courses too and take that into account for planning.

For the course “Structured Program Development", which is the introductory programming course at the university of the authors, an overview (see Figure 1) is given to the students containing the preparations per in-class meeting and also the exercises that will be discussed during the meetings. Most lecturers use this overview at the end of each meeting for explicitly communicating the topics and required preparations for the next meeting.

Controlled Pacing 01-alx.png
Fig. 1: Example overview document for the course Structured Program Development (translated from Dutch, only partly shown)

A similar approach is taken in the course “Object Oriented Program Development”, where students and teachers are presented with a very strict and clear scheme per in-class meeting (or lecture), both for the preparations and for the meeting itself. This is communicated via the online learning system, a screenshot is shown in Figure 2.

Controlled Pacing 02-alx.png
Fig. 2: Material per lecture for the course “Object Oriented Program Development’ (preparation material in the left column and the material for the in-class meeting in the right column)


  1. Köppe, C., Niels, R., Holwerda, R., Tijsma, L., Van Diepen, N., Van Turnhout, K., Bakker, R., (2015). Flipped Classroom Patterns - Designing Valuable In-Class Meetings. In Proceedings of the 20th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (EuroPLoP 2015). New York:ACM.
  2. Patlet also published in Köppe, C., Niels, R., Bakker, R., & Hoppenbrouwers, S. (2016). Flipped Classroom Patterns-Controlling the Pace. In Proceedings of the 10th Travelling Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (VikingPLoP 2016). New York:ACM.