Today’s post is about online study aids for students. For the most part, we’ll be looking at different variations of online flashcards. It’s up to you to determine whether they can add value to your teaching strategy. As a learning technologist, I would normally sit down with one or more instructors and discuss the nature of the course/module, how it fits in with the curriculum, the desired learning outcomes, the makeup of the student profile, the resources available within the classroom and throughout the term of the course, as well as how the teachers envision their instructional journey. Seeing as we don’t have that luxury here, I’ll do my best to provide you with an overview of some of the tools available to you – all free, all relatively user-friendly. One thing I will caution is that there is often a stigma associated with flashcards in which they are perceived as being useful only for elementary level learning, but with a bit of creativity and imagination, it’s possible to harness their power to aid in memory work and apply them beyond the basics of any subject – languages, geography, medicine, science and technology, history, etc.
Brainflips is the first tool on our list. The site has a great interface, each set of flashcards comes with a score board, timer, navigation panel and total number of cards in the deck, which makes it easy to see where you are in the testing process and how well you’re doing. You can study the materials in three different modes: introduction (question & answer side-by-side), traditional (question then answer), and response mode (manually enter answer). Learners can join groups which means that, for example, you can start a study group where you can create sets of decks of flashcards relevant to a specific class you’re teaching and have your students join your group. It gives you a sense of community and allows you to contextualize the learning in a clear place on the site. In terms of file formats, you can include audio, text, images and video into your flashcards. The search feature could be a bit more encompassing and there doesn’t seem to be much choice in how to filter and sort the results which makes it all the more important to know what you’re looking for.
FunnelBrain takes a very student-centric approach to learning. Based on the Leitner Method (common in the design of flashcard learning tools), the site emphasizes students working together to collaboratively build their knowledge and skills in common subject areas – a communities of practice approach for students. Mixing the well grounded learning theories with an innovative use of wikis and social software differentiates this from many of the other flashcard tools out there.
Although student teamwork is a great way to develop social as well as scholastic skill sets, how does the student know if they’re on the right path? Having said that, I understand how bringing teachers into the mix would significantly change the dynamic of a student-focused learning approached and these sorts of social dynamics are really important to consider in all technology enhanced educational settings. For example, there was a long-standing misconception prevalent in the educational community (I’m trying to be optimistic and use the past tense here…) that if students are using technologies so widely in their social lives, they will, of course, pick them up just as readily to support their learning. Then we found out that as soon as the context became more formal and people started watching (and assessing) what the students were doing with the technology, voluntary participation dwindled to a meager few. At best, you got a lot of lurkers and a very lonely eModerator creating monologues in the place of what was hoped would become enriching online discussions.
Collaborative online learning is brilliant – I’m a strong advocate of erasing borders, delimiting limitations and just getting on the with the work. Empowering students to take control of their learning is an initiative that, as far as I’m concerned, couldn’t be supported enough.
StudyStack has a nice feature of allowing users to rate collections of flashcards (a.k.a. ‘stacks’) using a star rating system. Users can sort search results by stack ratings, by date or by the description given to each set of flashcards. Some additional features include the ability to export content to mobile devices, sharing content through digg, twitter, etc. and there are even a few games mixed in for fun. (On a side note, if you’re looking for a way to create quizzes that students can complete on their mobile devices, you may want to consider Mobile Study.)
If I had known about StudyStack when I was using Ciao! to study Italian, I would have certainly saved myself some time writing out list after list of vocab and verb conjugations! Students are lucky these days!
Quizlet has a great demo video walking you through the key features of the service. What struck me is that it’s narrated by Andrew Sutherland who appears to be creating a quiz set of some French vocabulary for his high school French class – and he’s not the teacher! He’s the student! Why isn’t the teacher running the demo? Why aren’t teachers the ones advocating this tool? Why is a high school student showing teachers how to create learning resources? Or is this just a marketing strategy designed to make the tool more relatable to students?
In any case, this is a great site full of social networking features, very visual, very user-friendly, and it seems to have a lively community of members. If you get tired of flashcards, Quizlet can convert the information from the flashcards into online quizzes (written answer, matching, multiple choice and true/false formats are available) and if you’re really in the mood for some learning fun, you can play some online games to test your knowledge.
Because these tools are so similar in their functionality and rely so much on the creator of the study aids to suit the needs of the target students, much of the success of online flashcards depends on what you make of them. Remember that this is all based on your summative assessment strategy, so ask yourself a few questions when considering the use of online flashcards:
1. Do you as the instructor design the questions or do you have your students design the questions as part of the learning process?
2. Do you follow up and survey students’ scores, or do you mention the study aid once and hope they pick it up on their own?
3. Is there even a need to design your own cards considering the amount of content already available online?
4. Are you using textbooks that already make online study aids available to students? If not, do online flashcards work any better then end of chapter questions paired with a pencil and paper?
…and remember to have fun with it!