Building Skill With Feedback


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

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

  • 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.


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:

The survey links above are just 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.

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 (they get a bit of a rest), yourself (you will get more useful feedback), and The Carpentries.

Minute Cards

Before each lunch break and at the end of the first day, we use sticky notes as minute cards to get anonymous feedback from learners. Learners write one positive thing on their blue sticky note, and one negative thing on their yellow one. Instructors can change the prompt to elicit different types of feedback at each break.

Example “positive” prompts:

Example “negative” 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

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.