Building Skill With Feedback

Overview

Teaching: 10 min
Exercises: 10 min
Questions
  • How can I get feedback from learners?

  • How can I use this feedback to improve my teaching?

Objectives
  • Describe three feedback mechanisms used in Carpentries workshops.

  • Give feedback to your instructors.

We use formative assessment of learners during workshops to help track learners’ progress and adjust our approach to teaching the content as needed. But formative assessment is not just for learners. As we will discuss in more detail later, teaching is also a skill that is improved through regular practice and feedback. We gather feedback from our learners at multiple points in the workshop and in different forms.

Surveys

Carpentries learners fill out a survey before attending and immediately after a workshop. These surveys include questions to help instructors get an idea of their attendees’ prior experience and backgrounds before the workshop starts. Using this information, instructors can start to plan how they will approach the materials and what level of exercises are likely to be appropriate for their learners.

You can preview the surveys your learners will take at the links below:

If you’d like have an overview of the questions asked in the surveys without having to go through all the questions, you can preview them in a text-format below:

When The Carpentries Workshop Administration Team sets up the surveys for your workshop, they will also send you a link to a dashboard with the results! Take care not to share this link with your learners.

The survey links above are only for you to preview the survey as part of Instructor Training. When you are teaching a workshop, make sure to share the links that gets generated on your workshop website. Doing so will ensure that you will receive all the survey results from your workshop participants.

Screenshot of a workshop website showing location of customized survey links

Timing Matters

We have found that learners are much more likely to fill out the post-workshop survey while they are still at the workshop than they are after they leave the venue. At the end of a two-day workshop, your learners’ brains will be very tired. Rather than trying to fit in another 15 minutes worth of teaching, give your learners time to complete the post-workshop survey at the end of your workshop. You will be helping them (with an opportunity to reflect), yourself (you will get more useful feedback), and The Carpentries (we improve our programs based on feedback, and our funders take pride in the success of our workshops, too).

Minute Cards

Before each lunch break and at the end of the first day, we have learners complete minute cards to share anonymous feedback. At an in-person workshop, paper sticky notes double as minute cards, with the two different colors used for positive and constructive feedback. At an online workshop, this may be done by making a copy of our Virtual Minute Card Template on Google Forms. Other tools can work as well, but we do recommend making sure that feedback is private and anonymous. A public-facing sticky note board will receive different (and less useful) feedback.

Whatever method you use, you may wish to customize the prompt to elicit different types of feedback at each break.

Example positive prompts:

Example constructive prompts:

Over lunch and before the second day starts, the Instructors read through the minute cards and look for patterns. At the start of day two and each afternoon, the Instructors take a few minutes to address commonly raised issues with the whole class. The non-teaching Instructor can also type answers to the questions in the Etherpad.

Be Explicit About Using Feedback

Learners are more likely to give useful feedback if they feel that their feedback is being taken seriously. Spending a few minutes talking about the feedback you got and being explicit about what changes you are making in light of that feedback will encourage learners to continue to give informative feedback throughout the workshop.

One-Up, One-Down

In addition to minute cards, we also ask learners to give us feedback at the end of each day using a technique called “one up, one down”. The instructor asks the learners to alternately give one positive and one negative point about the day, without repeating anything that has already been said. This requirement forces people to say things they otherwise might not: once all the “safe” feedback has been given, participants will start saying what they really think. The instructor writes down the feedback in the Etherpad or a text editor, but does not comment on the feedback while collecting it. The instructors then discuss this feedback and how they plan to act on it. Like with minute cards, be explicit about how you are responding to learner feedback.

Give Us Feedback

Write one thing you learned this morning that you found useful on your blue sticky note, and one question you have about the material on the yellow. Do not put your name on the notes: this is meant to be anonymous feedback. Add your notes to the pile by the door as you leave for lunch.

Key Points

  • Give your learners time to fill out the post-workshop survey at the end of your workshop.

  • Take the time to respond to your learners’ feedback.