Teaching Card Sorting

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Card sorting is more an educational exercise than a must-have-done job. Here are the goals:

  • Teach terminology we expect them to know
  • Familiarize them with components in general
  • Familiarize them with main characteristics of cards
  • Encourage careful observation
  • Secondarily (the practical goal): sort cards so the folks in receiving don't need to go through them individually

These teacher notes may seem long, but if you understand the goals and are patient with the student and observant, it's not a difficult job.

Quick Guide

  1. Familiarize them with the space
  2. Go over functional categories and external connectors
  3. Let 'em stew (or hover, if necessary)
  4. Check completed piles
  5. Introduce slot types and other salient characteristics
  6. Point out subcategories
  7. Have them make lots of piles
  8. Doublecheck piles
  9. If using the example box: have them shuffle and return the cards to the box. add cards if there are any missing categories.
    • If using a mixed box: add cards to appropriate boxes & doublecheck the contents of those.
  10. Test out

Detailed Instructions

Familiarize them with the space: There should be a binder with up-to-date documentation, an example box of mixed cards, maybe a fresh box of mixed cards (obtained from system evaluation or from receiving), and ample empty horizontal space. If you'll be putting stuff in boxes on the shelves, remove full ones to where they need to go and replace them with empty boxes from the top shelf. The top shelf should only have empty boxes. Introduce yourself and ask if they have any prior hardware experience. People in card sorting are generally here for their first or second time, and may even be a little technophobic. Be encouraging; try not to be condescending.

First is a sort by function. The best way to determine what a card does is to look at what connects to it (faceplate). We want them to be very confident they can recognize video cards, modems, sound cards and network card, because those go in FreekBoxes. Other categories are outlined in the documentation. The most confused one is the combo modem/sound card, which has just one RJ11 port. Allow them to categorize the cards by function and reiterate the possibility of an "I just don't know" pile. Encourage them to use the flowchart, and even walk them through it for a couple of cards.

Check their piles. I usually say "tell me about these piles" so they will name each one as they go through. Watch for NICs in the modem pile and vice versa; sometimes you'll also see video or sound cards in the Everything Else pile. These people may need a little more review, or they may just need it pointed out once. Use your judgement. If there are things in the "I just don't know" pile that belong in one of the other ones, point it out. Gently!

Introduce the slot types. It is usually helpful to pull out a motherboard to demonstrate what "slot" you're talking about. The PCI/ISA distinction is the one to stress most. Point out things like the width and distance between pins, the distance the slot is set back from the faceplate, and the small notch in the PCI. EISA and VESA cards can be introduced as obsolete and less common; probably just pointing to the ones on the demo board (in the small room) will work. They may need to be told explicitly that these slots do not correspond to the function of the card that goes into them; as a matter of fact, all of the categories they sorted into can be found in ISA (and often PCI) form. On the other hand, AGP cards are always and only video cards.

Before they move on to sorting the cards into subcategories, they also need to learnone more characteristics of a specific card, i.e. how to determine the speed of a NIC.

Point out the bulleted lists of subcategories for each category they've already sorted, and have them break down each of their existing piles. They may want you to stick around while they do a couple, or it may be best to let them have a go on their own. Even if the space is getting crowded, they shouldn't be putting the stuff away until after you've checked these final piles.

Doublecheck these piles. If they are confident and you are confident in them, this may be their "test". If the cards came from the example box, they should be "shuffled", subcategories that are scarce or missing should be replenished from the shelved boxes, and they should be replaced in the example box. If they came from evaluation, the correctly sorted cards should be put in the shelved boxes (the categories will correspond to the boxes). Encourage people doing this to double-check the cards on top of each box they add to. If the boxes of sorted cards become full, have your volunteers help you get them where they need to go, then take down some empty boxes, label them correctly, and put them in their correct places.

If you're not certain of their skills or they want a more defined test or they just need to have the names of things reinforced, you may want to "test" them by grabbing a random card or two and asking them to tell you about it. They should be able to tell you "that's an ISA sound card" or "that's a VESA video card." Don't be afraid to encourage them to review some more.

When you pass someone out of a task, you need to be sure to initial their builder status sheet. People frequently do card and motherboard sorting on the same day, so it's ok to elect to sign them both off at the same time (and not make multiple runs to the builder status book).