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The Magic of Minute Cards

Formative assessment for instructors!

This post originally appeared on the Data Carpentry website

They only take a minute (hence the name: minute cards), but their benefits last a lot longer. During instructor training workshops, we use minute cards to get feedback from learners. They provide formative assessment for the instructors since the cards tell instructors what they are doing well (or not so well) so class teaching can be adjusted accordingly.

Minute cards can alert instructors to questions and misconceptions that have arisen. They are also useful post-workshop to help instructors reflect on how they teach, and what improvements they might need to make in the future either to the lesson itself, or to how they teach it.

Importantly, minute cards tell the instructors what they are doing well, and what things learners are excited about, which is very inspiring for an instructor. So, what is it with minute cards?

What are minute cards?

Cate Pickens introduced the idea of minute cards to Software Carpentry. The idea is that you have an index card, or your handy green and red sticky notes, and before each break, you ask learners to write ‘one thing you learned or liked’ on one side/on the green note and ‘one thing you’re confused about’ on the other side/on the red sticky note. Minute cards are the ‘ticket’ people turn in before they go out for lunch or leave the workshop. Feedback is hand-written on the notecards/stickies and is meant to be anonymous, since this encourages franker responses. (For online instructor training events, we collect this feedback through a Google form).

Negative and positive feedback

How to use minute cards during workshops

So, you get all this valuable feedback. Now what? With your co-instructor, go through the notes. Pull out the awesome or funny ones and smile. Other notes might have suggestions that can be immediately addressed. For instance, if you see a few notes asking you to slow down, then you have a better understanding of the pace of the room, and it would be a good idea to teach the next part more slowly, with more checking for understanding as you go.

Once people are back from break, consider taking a few minutes at the start to review whatever learners were confused about. Some notes may raise specific questions. If you see the same question more than once, try to address that question directly. Framing it as ‘many people raised this’ reassures people that they’re not alone with an issue, which helps build their confidence. Sometimes there might be issues that only one person raises, but it’s a fundamental enough concept that is is worth addressing for the class as a whole.

Where a single question is interesting but is outside the workshop scope, answer it in the workshop etherpad.

Overall, minute cards are a great way to make sure you’re on track with your teaching during the workshop. You also get to hear about the things people are excited about learning. Tapping into their enthusiasm keeps your own enthusiasm levels high.

After the workshop

Once the workshop is over, we have to switch our attention back to answering all those emails that have piled up over the last two days. However, the notes are still really valuable pieces of information. Here are some ideas for your minute cards:

  • Use the information to inform your personal teaching strategies or style.
  • Add an issue to the lesson that the note references. For instance, if a few people mention things that they wish they had learned, or things that seemed out of order, file an issue on that lesson to let people know this suggestion. This is super helpful for the instructors who will be teaching this lesson after you!
  • Add an issue to a lesson that explains what people liked about the lesson. Knowing what is working well is just as important as knowing what is not working!
  • Share them on Twitter! Tweet a picture of the feedback and tag it @datacarpentry. Of course the positive ones are great, but if a more negative one provides constructive feedback, those are great too!
  • Put the happy sticky notes up on the wall in your office. Remember the positive impact you’re having on people, especially for those days when you get comments back from Reviewer number 3.

Minute cards are more than just pretty pieces of paper. They’re useful pieces of feedback for you as an instructor and for the community as a whole.

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