Student Miners/alx

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Student Miners
Contributors Christian Köppe, Joost Schalken-Pinkster
Last modification June 6, 2017
Source Köppe and Schalken-Pinkster (2013)[1]; Köppe, Portier, Bakker & Hoppenbrouwers (in press 2015)[2]; Köppe, Niels, Holwerda, Tijsma, Van Diepen, Van Turnhout, and Bakker (2015)[3]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

Also Known As: Collaborative Knowledge Construction (Collaborative Knowledge Construction)

You want to introduce a new concept, which is related in part to concepts the students already know


Just presenting a new concept makes it hard for students to relate this new knowledge to their existing knowledge and keeps them in an undesired passive role.

Introducing a new concept in isolation is likely to be less effective because of the missing link to existing knowledge. It costs more time afterwards to explain the links between existing knowledge and the new concept.

Even when you make the link more explicit by presenting it in your lecture, it still does not actively reactivate this existing knowledge in the students. The students stay knowledge consumers. There is a difference if the students are told what they already (should) know or if they have to reactivate this knowledge by themselves.


Therefore: Introduce the concept through questions that are related to existing knowledge and lead towards the new concept; don’t present the concept yourself directly. Let multiple students provide a variety of answers to these questions and lead the group through follow-up questions towards the new concept. Mine the new concept from all answers together with all students.

This pattern is similar to Build and Maintain Confidence (Build and Maintain Confidence) and Reflection (Reflection), which both focus more on having the students find solutions to a given problem by themselves. But the core idea is the same: do not present something by yourself that the students are about to learn, but let them find out about it (mainly) by themselves, based on their own knowledge and experiences.

Student Miners (Student Miners) can best be used if a student already has some relevant prior knowledge, as the pattern is less effective when introducing a new field of theory to students. Therefore this pattern is best used with students that are not in their first year of studies.

Applying this pattern might increase the students’ perception that they have discovered the concept by themselves (as they did Expand the Known World (Expand the Known World) of their own knowledge), which is a good learning motivator.

Problem Orientation (Problem Orientation) could be a good starting point for the Student Miners (Student Miners). Carefully Crafted Questions (Carefully Crafted Questions) trigger the students to think about a topic in different ways, the variety of answers could be used to approach a new topic starting from a students’ perspective (as they gave the answers) and to discuss different views. In order to trigger the thought process more deeply, these should be Open Ended Questions (Open Ended Questions). Make sure to use a Pregnant Pause (Pregnant Pause) so that the students have enough time to think about their answers. Uninterrupted Listening (Uninterrupted Listening) is necessary in order to really hear all students’ thoughts.

The implementation of the pattern solution often follows a certain flow: (1) the lecturer should start with questions for reactivating existing knowledge, (2) then a new problem can be introduced where this existing knowledge forms the basis or starting point for finding the solution of the problem, and (3) the following questions should help the students to make the connection between exisiting knowledge and the new problem by combining or varying parts of their existing knowledge and exploring possibilities of filling in the missing parts.

During application of this pattern, the lecturer might get a lot of answers. Even if the first answers already include the correct one, ask for more answers. Start a discussion about the differences between these answers are and look for common parts in the answers. Let the students identify these themselves, as this will making the learning effect stronger.

When having the students mine their own knowledge and collaboratively working towards the new concept, it is a good idea to use Name Is Last (Name Is Last). That way you can ensure that they really focus on the concept itself and are not distracted by the name and some (possibly) wrong associations the students have with it.

The hard thing about this pattern is that you as teacher do not know in advance what the students’ answers will be. You should therefore be able to react in a forward-leading way to a variety of answers. This is not easy and some teachers might find it too difficult or might feel uncomfortable. However, you always have the option to stop the Student Miners (Student Miners) and just present the concept by yourself, which would result in a situation as if this pattern solution hasn’t been applied.

A more concrete variation of Student Miners (Student Miners) is the pattern Discover Your Own Pattern (Discover Your Own Pattern), which is part of a pattern language for teaching design patterns. Here the existing knowledge is the one about (object oriented) software design principles like encapsulation, loose coupling, etc. By making use of this knowledge and introducing a problem — like “one needs to be able to easily add or change the way the bonuses of employees are calculated" — one can easily lead the discussion towards the structure of the Strategy (Strategy) pattern[4]

There are some similarities between Student Miners (Student Miners) and Make It Their Problem (Make It Their Problem), but contrary to Make It Their Problem (Make It Their Problem) the Student Miners (Student Miners) do not have to agree upfront on a solution to the problem. Instead the focus of the Student Miners (Student Miners) is to collaboratively find the solution and to discuss alternatives, hereby identifying some underlying concepts on their own.

Student Miners (Student Miners) is a more conscious application of Line of Reasoning (Line of Reasoning), whereby you are not reacting on an unexpected answer of a student to one of your questions, but where you are asking the questions in such a way that you might get different and also unexpected answers.

In a course on Object-Oriented Analysis and Design I wanted to introduce the concept of generalization/specialization on a conceptual level (as part of domain modeling). I had already used an example for introducing other parts of domain models —like conceptual classes, attributes, and associations— which was a simple room reservation system at a university. We discussed collaboratively that both students and teachers should be able to make room reservations, e.g. working on a project or for having a team meeting. So we had on the whiteboard the conceptual classes reservation, student, and teacher. There were associations between reservation and both student and teacher. I asked them what the association exists between reservation and teacher if a student has reserved the room and vice versa. We discovered that this might be a problematic flaw in the design and the students started to discuss alternatives, like adding a flag that signals if the student or the teacher has reserved a room. At some point in the discussion one student mentioned anyway it’s always one person who has made the reservation, and we should link the reservation to this person. I asked what the difference is between the concepts person, student, and teacher, and another student answered that both students and teachers are persons. At this moment I gave the concept the students just had discovered a name — generalization. We then continued this discussion (The question “can we ever have a person in our little system who is neither student nor teacher?" lead to the introduction of abstract conceptual classes...).


  1. Pattern published in Köppe, C., & Schalken-Pinkster, J. (2013). Lecture design patterns: improving interactivity. In Proceedings of the 20th Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP 2013) (p. 23). The Hillside Group.
  2. Patlet mentioned in Köppe, C., Portier, M., Bakker, R., & Hoppenbrouwers, S. (in press 2015). Lecture Design Patterns: More Interactivity Improvement Patterns. In Proceedings of the 22nd Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP 2015). New York:ACM.
  3. Also mentioned in 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.
  4. Gamma, E., Helm, R., Johnson, R., AND Vlissides, J. (1994). Design Patterns: elements of reusable object-oriented software. Addison-Wesley:Boston, MA.