Author: Tarun K. Dam and Purnima Bandyopadhyay
Most conventional assessment strategies provide limited opportunities for instructors to realign teaching methods and revisit topics that students have not understood well. Teachers can communicate with students individually, but time constraints may prevent multiple individual conversations. Some students in the classroom are reluctant to ask questions and admit confusion. We are overcoming these difficulties with a simple method of assessment that improves communication between teachers and students. The method is called Continuous and Rapid Testing (CaRT).
Here’s how CaRT works when I (TKD) use it in my undergraduate biochemistry class. At the start of every class, I hand out an index card to each student. Then I show a slide with one to three questions that require short answers. My goal is to use questions that encourage students to think critically about topics taught in the previous class session. The students have five minutes to write down their answers on the index cards. On the back of the cards, students write their names, and I invite them to mention any topic from the previous class session that they found difficult to understand. They can also offer input regarding the topics we discussed in the previous class and the teaching methods I used to present them. After collecting the index cards, I share the correct answers on a slide and then begin the discussion of the day’s topic. The accumulated CaRT questions may serve as a question bank for midterm and final exams. To encourage students to use them for that purpose, I email each student the CaRT questions and answers.
Before the next class, I review all the index cards but do not grade the answers. In a biochemistry class with 39 students (mostly undergraduate and a few graduate students), it took less than an hour to go through all the answers and the comments. Since CaRT answers and comments are not anonymous, I immediately become aware of how well each student understood the material we’d just covered. Their weaknesses are not masked as they sometimes are in group learning activities. If many students are finding the topic difficult and don’t yet really understand it, I can review that material again in class. If only a few individuals are struggling with a particular concept, I email these students, inviting them to come and talk with me so I can help them understand the concept. On midterm teaching evaluations, the students reported that they found CaRT to be helpful, and they offered similar positive views on their end-of-semester evaluations.
The CaRT activity takes less than 10 minutes of classroom time, and it doesn’t take me a lot of additional time, since I don’t grade the answers. I have found that not grading the answers encourages students to offer responses that are more intellectually adventurous and uninhibited. Students have an incentive to take the CaRT activity seriously; regular completion is a component of the class participation grade.
CaRT encourages shy and silent students to speak their minds. Shy students, who may not want to email the instructor, communicate daily with him or her through their answers to CaRT questions and comments on the index cards. Sometimes the possibility of being made fun of by their peers stops students from speaking in the classroom, and CaRT removes all these risks. CaRT does not increase anxiety and competition. Rather, it prevents students in large classes from feeling anonymous. They know their answers and comments are being read. CaRT can help teachers feel the “pulse” and progress of the class on a day-to-day basis and help in monitoring attendance. It encourages students to come to class prepared and reduces procrastination. An activity like CaRT is versatile enough to be used by instructors in many different disciplines.
Tarun K. Dam and Purnima Bandyopadhyay, Michigan Technological University.