Minute papers – encouraging reflection?

Part of the rationale for developing and using BAM had its origins in this unpublished paper (Jones, 2005). A part of the paper talks about minute papers, that content is reproduced below.

Minute papers

The minute paper is one way to help promote meta-cognitive thinking amongst students and to provide academics with ungraded, anonymous, immediate feedback from their students in order to assess how well and how much they have learned (Murphy & Wolff, 2005). Empirical tests have found that students completing minute papers scored higher than those who did not (Murphy & Wolff, 2005). For academic staff, minute papers raise the awareness of student experience and misunderstandings and provide an opportunity to reflect on teaching. Also it is a mechanism through which the academic demonstrates respect for and interest in student opinion and encourages the student’s active involvement in the learning process (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Unlike other forms of course evaluation the minute paper can be explained to students as a vehicle for improving their own on-going instruction rather that that of future students (Chizmar & Ostrosky, 1998).

A minute paper asks students to take a minute at the end of a class or topic to answer, traditionally on paper, a small number, usually one or two, of questions about the class. The most common two questions are:

  1. What was the most important thing you learned during today’s class?
  2. What question(s) remain upper-most in your mind? Or, what is the muddiest point still remaining at the conclusion of today’s class?

The anonymous student responses are handed into the academic who makes use of these responses to make some adjustment in the course. If minute papers are overused or poorly used it can be seen by students as a gimmick or pro forma exercise in polling (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Murphy and Wolf (2005) found that as the semester progressed a few students became “bored” with the minute papers and gave rushed and trivial responses to the questions. It is difficult to prepare questions that can be easily understood and quickly answered (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Implementing the one-minute paper in an online form did not achieve the same response rate as a paper-based version but was superior in that students provided longer responses, provided the instructor with greater flexibility with replies and were automatically archived for future use (Murphy & Wolff, 2005).

The author has used minute papers in face-to-face teaching and found them to be useful. It is thought that asking distance education students to blog a minute paper each time they do some study will provide a minimal level of structure and help the coordinator be aware of how each student is progressing.

The need for observable change

The minute paper idea has some similarity with the concept of a course barometer (Jones, 2002) through its use a simple, regular set of questions asked regularly during term to provide academic staff with feedback from students that can form a basis for improvement.

The commonality continues in terms of the importance of observable change. The barometer paper (Jones, 2002) found that students were much more likely to contribute to a barometer if they could see observable change happening as a result of barometer feedback. This overlaps with the point made above about minute papers

If minute papers are overused or poorly used it can be seen by students as a gimmick or pro forma exercise in polling (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Murphy and Wolf (2005) found that as the semester progressed a few students became “bored” with the minute papers and gave rushed and trivial responses to the questions.

The observable part of “observable change” also suggests that the course barometer, at least in its original format, is likely to be an improvement over minute papers. This is due to the fact that student comments are visible to all students on the course barometer, however, student comments in minute papers are typically not visible to others.

Use of minute papers with BAM

The initial BAM assignment had 3 of 9 questions use minute paper like questions. For example

Post an entry to your blog that answers the following questions:

  1. What were the most important concepts you learnt about data and process modelling this week?
  2. Why do you think those concepts are important?
  3. What are the data and process modelling concepts that are still causing you the greatest problems?
  4. How might the problems you are having be solved?

There is much research still to be done on the use of BAM. One avenue of interest might be to investigate the quality of the answers given to these “minute paper” questions and any correlation with final results. (yes, there are all sorts of limitations with that sort of research, but still some small amount of value). Perhaps Chizmar and Ostrosky (1998) can provide some insight into this.


Angelo, T. and K. Cross (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Chizmar, J. and A. Ostrosky (1998). “The one-minute paper: Some empirical findings.” Journal of Economic Education 29(1): 3-10.

David Jones, Student feedback, anonymity, observable change and course barometers, World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, Denver, Colorado, June 2002, pp. 884-889.

David Jones (2005), Enhancing the learning journey for distance education students in an introductory programming course

Murphy, L. and D. Wolff (2005). “Take a minute to complete the loop: using electronic Classroom Assessment Techniques in computer science labs.” Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges 21(1): 150-159.

One thought on “Minute papers – encouraging reflection?

  1. Pingback: Journey of an International Pre-Service Teacher

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