I never thought I would spend this much time writing about index cards, but I tried a new activity in class this week and thought I’d share the results.
In my original “Versatile Index Card” post, I mentioned a technique called Chain Notes from a book by Angelo and Cross (“Classroom Assessment Techniques”). I thought Chain Notes might be a good way to learn how my students feel about a new feature I have added to my nonmajors biology class. The feature is a McGraw-Hill product called LearnSmart, which uses adaptive learning technology to help students focus on what they know about course content and what they still need to learn. LearnSmart looks like flashcards, but it’s more powerful because it uses students’ assessment of their own knowledge to determine which subjects students need more help with and which subjects they already know. There is also a gaming aspect to it that appeals to students’ competitive side.
So, how did I use Chain Notes in my class? I first passed out index cards, then I circulated a manila envelope with this simple prompt written on it: “Please describe your opinions about LearnSmart.” I asked students to answer on the index card when the envelope reached them, place the card in the manila envelope, and pass it on.
After class, the first thing I noticed is that the envelope seemed awfully light. From clicker data I knew that 51 students came to class yesterday, but there were only 29 cards in the envelope. Although the class lasted 50 minutes, the envelope obviously never made it to some of the students. To be honest, I was surprised that it took so long for students to do the task. Of course, the three clicker questions I asked in class probably caused significant breaks in the Chain Notes action, as did (I suppose) some of the more challenging material in the lecture — I assume that taking notes was a higher priority than filling out the index cards.
I really wanted to hear what all of the students’ opinions, so today I circulated the envelope to collect the rest of the opinions. The result: 17 more index cards, for a total of 46.
The next thing I noticed was that students seem to enjoy expressing their opinions. Only one student wrote, simply “I like it.” Every other student provided useful detail about what they liked and/or how it could improve.
For the record, LearnSmart is really popular! Of the 46 cards I received, 29 were unambiguously positive. Another 10 students were complimentary but wanted me to change the timing — either have it due later in the day or later in the week. One student wanted it due later in the week without expressing an opinion about LearnSmart itself, and another didn’t like it specifically because of the due date. Four others really liked it but found some specific element of it annoying or difficult. And one liked it but thought he or she was learning only by memorizing and not by applying the material.
All in all, I would call the Chain Notes experiment a moderate success. Getting a glimpse into my students’ minds was great, of course, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get to hear from all of them in one day. It’s hard to imagine how a really large class could use Chain Notes in a standard 50-minute class period.