Review Anki Flashcards

Anki is the concept of notecards for the 21st century. I was a big fan of Anki when the first version was released, but I had to reacquaint myself when they switched to version 2.0. With that said, now that I’ve been able to familiarize myself with the new interface I love it. I’m not alone in this affinity for Anki either.  A former college classmate, who is easily one of the top five smartest people I know said he would bow down (to Anki) and worship it! So beware, Anki flashcards may just become your new religion. What makes Anki so awesome that it verges on the edge of deification? To begin with: the flexibility of the card system and the portability.

 First off, Anki could be used as nothing more than a glorified notecard. It allows you to construct your basic card with a front and back. You can set the system to do your standard review showing the front or the back for you to correctly identify the other side.  That’s nothing special and as easily achievable with paper, rocks, wood chips and the like.

Now here’s where the beauty of Anki comes in though. This Lifehacker article suggests the best way to learn a new language is to associate new words with pictures.  The article highlighted Anki because the platform is capable of associating words with pictures.  To test this type of flashcard out, I created a deck that used pictures for Spanish verbs. Again, this might be achievable with paper, but Anki comes with the flexibility to associate a concept with a visual representation or a word-based representation.  So far, I’m sold.

The next flexible feature is the cloze cards of Anki. In working with historical facts, the cloze cards are what I would probably use most often. With the cloze system, I can create a card that says, (Robert E Lee) was a (general) for the (Confederacy). The items in the parenthesis are essentially wildcards. When Anki displays the card, one of those wildcards will be missing and waiting to be filled in by the studious student. 

The other nice feature is the field system that was implemented with version 2.0.  This new field system is what stymied me the most, but now is an awesome feature.  With this feature I can create fields that will be used a templates to help populate other cards. For example, my wife, who is an English teacher, would like to spend less time and effort grading vocabulary and give students more effective and differentiated practice time with new words. With Anki I created a card template that contained the word, definition, synonym, antonym, etymology, and a sentence. When reviewing, the card will display the definition, synonym, antonym, etymology, or the sentence at intervals with the reviewer connecting the vocabulary word to all six fields.  My wife can’t wait to see what happens when she gets to stop handing out (and grading) vocabulary worksheets and instead focus on study aids such as Anki flashcards.

Oh yes, even with all that flexibility, there is even more awesomeness to Anki. With Anki, you can sync your decks to a Smart Mobile Device, your desktop, or the web, giving students almost no excuse not to be able to study. The reason why I say ‘almost’ is my one detraction against Anki. While the app is free on Android, it is unreasonably priced at $25 for iOS devices. The ability to use it on the web or a desktop should be able to mitigate the high pricing for Apple fans.

Essentially, teachers can use Anki to create decks that students can then import into their profile to use to study on the device (priced accordingly) of their choice or availability. On the educational theory side, Anki uses spaced repetition in order for the reviewer to learn the content. When answering a card, at the bottom there are choices the reviewer can select that correlates with how easily you were able to get the answer. The variable on when you will see that card again is dependent on your response. For example, when it is first seen a card will have the options of; Hard:1 minute, Good:10 minutes, Easy:1 day. As you study more and more, the timing will be space out farther. This system allows the student to focus on the things that they need to study but keeps the material they know around for a random pop in.

On a final note, I think the implementation of Anki would take some time. The user interface for card creation in version 2.0 took me some time to learn, and I consider myself rather savvy at deciphering convoluted interfaces. I believe though with proper training, this tool could be a huge asset in any curriculum in a school.  It’s definitely a plus, but also something to develop over the Summer to be ready to go with implementation during the school year.

Power On!

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What Does Technology in Education Look Like?

That is the billion dollar question. Actually, it’s the multi-billion dollar question. According to the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the non-hardware educational technology market is worth $7.5 billion. Throw in hardware, like NewsCorps Amplify tablet, and the educational technology market is through the roof. The problem is what the hell does it look like?

The best example I can give happened to me this year. While teaching my class on D.C. History, we were discussing home rule. (A quick background, Article I Section 8, Clause 17 gave Congress exclusive jurisdiction over Washington. Less then 15 years later, this issue became a problem for the people living in DC. They could not vote for President nor have a Representative in Congress. Basically, they had no say in the rules process). The students were given quotes from the early 1800’s and had to identify the author’s position and then analyze the author’s argument. The discussion was very lively with strong comparisons of D.C. government to the students’ lack of ability to affect rules in the school. My assistant principal was observing this lesson, and I thought I would receive rather high scores for the fantastic discussion.

In the debriefing, one critique she had was incorporating technology into the lesson. I responded that there was no need for technology in the lesson. Her response was that I could have put the quotes on a PowerPoint or something rather than just have the kids looking at a sheet of paper on their desk. I responded that that’s using PowerPoint for no apparent reason. We went back and forth on the topic. I ended up with not quite the review I had expected. When discussing the situation with my (also a teacher) wife, she thought I should have said pencil and paper is also a technology. Putting the quotes on a PowerPoint wouldn’t change or improve the content.

Too often I think people want teachers to use technology for flash and glitter. I’m in favor of practical application of technology. Cool graphics on a PowerPoint doesn’t make a lesson better. I want to use technology where it makes sense and actually improves the delivery and content of the lesson, not just to make something shiny.

The next era in Ed tech is going to be Learning Analytic software. While attending a Brookings Institute forum on the topic (where I think I was the only teacher in the room, but that is a discussion for another day), developers and education policy wonks discussed software that tracks mouse movement, clicks, and learning retention that could quantify when a student learns what subject best at what time of day. Hardware development is also expanding. The Amplify tablet is specifically marketed at the education market.

To a teacher in the classroom, all that is years down the line. Technology for a teacher today is programs like Adobe, Anki, Socrative, Google Apps, and others. Or capitalizing on smartphones in our students’ pockets, instead of just banning it like several schools I’ve worked for do. That’s what I mean when I think about technology in the classroom.

Power On!