Minute Papers in a Large Class
James Craig. TRC Newsletter, 7:1 (Fall 1995).
I have been using Minute Papers in my Introductory Psychology class for the past four years. The class has 250 students, mostly freshmen. After each lecture, a third of the students are assigned to respond to the lecture via one of the computer clusters. Students can do one of two things: they can indicate what was least clear to them from the lecture, or give a personal example that illustrates some concept from the lecture or the textbook.
The Minute Papers typically reveal two or three major questions on the part of students, which I answer at the beginning of the next lecture. I have found that the students pay more attention to the answers if I put the question on an overhead. Also, writing the question on an overhead tells the students the answer is not directed only at the person who asked it. Answering their questions at the next class lets students know that they are not the only ones with that question and also gives students a sense that they have some control over the direction of the course. Some students use the Minute Papers to give examples, which can inform my teaching. I asked students if they knew anyone who had suffered brain damage and what effects had they observed in the person’s behavior. By the students’ responses I knew I could refer them to some of the common causes and consequences of brain damage and be confident that most of the students would have some direct knowledge of them.
Instructors should be aware that Minute Papers can be a mixed blessing. Because they are not anonymous, I tend to get few completely negative comments; however, it often happens that after delivering what I consider to be an absolutely clear lecture, I get feedback that requires me to re–teach. For example, after a lecture on how the auditory system encodes frequency, I received the comment, “The lecture was very clear and I understood everything except how the auditory system encodes frequency. Could you go over that again?”
The time required to read the Minute Papers is not great. Because they are all typed and appear on my computer screen, I can read 70 responses in about 15 or 20 minutes. The students’ chief complaints about the lecture responses are:
that they cannot find an available computer cluster at the time they want to respond and
that they have no questions about the lecture.
This first complaint decreases over the semester as students figure out which clusters are free at what times. The second complaint I can address by offering several alternative ways to respond. Although I do not know whether students benefit directly from Minute Papers, I do know that I understand their knowledge of the subject better, and I believe that it helps me improve my lectures and the course accordingly.
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