Memrise: Making Memorization Fun

Memrise logoRote memorization as a learning strategy has fallen out of favor in recent years, for good reason. When students cram by memorizing facts for an exam, those memories are often fleeting. Long term memory is built differently. Yet a certain amount of memorization of facts is essential to the foundation of any discipline. There can be multiple layers to the need for these foundational facts in a course. In an introductory class, it is expected that students will learn these facts, but as an instructor you may not want to have them spend valuable class time to this end. At higher levels of course work, students may need to do remedial work to brush up on the facts or to learn from scratch on their own. How can you help students with learning the facts for your course?

Enter Memrise, “…an online learning community where one can learn almost anything in the world, entirely for free! Through just the right mix of science, fun and community, learning on Memrise is speedy, enjoyable and lasts.” Moreover, the Memrise app makes it easy for your students to learn on the go using their smartphones. [See: Apple App StoreGoogle Play Store]

Memrise offers existing courses in languages (including vocabulary, grammar, and culture), arts, literature, math, science, the natural word, history, geography, computers, engineering, law, health and medicine, business and finance, prepping for specific standardized tests, and more. If you don’t find a course that meets your requirements, you can create your own.

Memrise “…help[s] you form vivid, sensory memories. We test you continuously, always making sure to give your brain just the right workout. We remind you of what you’ve learned at scientifically optimized times so your memories are always growing stronger, and never forgotten.” Combining this with a gamification element makes the process fun. Students can use Memrise on their own, or there is also a group function that allows students to learn together, which can be created by an instructor or by students. “The group function is beneficial, because the students/group members can compete against each other on the Leaderboards. Also the members can see their overall score all together. This way the group creator/teacher can keep track of the members’ progress and learning easily.”

As a personal endorsement, back in August I tested Memrise by using a course to learn the Greek alphabet. I took two days to go through the process, then put it aside. Three months later, my retention is 100%. Results may vary, but it’s an app worth looking into when you need your students to do some memorizing.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Memrise logo

Twine 2.0: Not just for storytelling

For the past several years, I’ve been interested in storytelling as a means of improving student communication skills in any media. When I talk to students about communication skills, we discuss the importance of knowing your audience and of thinking about one’s research or project a being an opportunity to tell a story. I’m always on the lookout for applications and tools that might be useful in the classroom to help put these ideas into practice.

Black and white line drawing of a figure standing on an arrow with three heads pointing in different directions.A few years ago, I came across Twine, a tool for creating non-linear texts. It had potential, but at that time, the interface was a bit clunky, and didn’t seem intuitive enough for faculty and students to be able to pick up quickly. Enter Twine 2.0. A recent ProfHacker (Chronicle of Higher Education) blog post Starter Exercises for Interactive Storytelling, June 18, 2015, by Anastasia Salter, alerted me to a newer, easier to use version, with options for downloading or using it online. Twine casts itself as a game-writing tool, but more broadly it allows users to construct a story map.

What is a story map? If you were or had a child in the 80s or 90s, you may remember the popularity of the print “choose your own adventure” books. A story map allows you to graphically plot the paths that making a set of choices will take you down. This is the structure behind video games, as well as the “pick your next step” stories.

What can you do with Twine? Here’s what the Twine 2.0 guide says:

At its heart, Twine is a tool for creating hypertext. The difference between hypertext and a linear story, the kind found in books and magazines, is that it allows the reader to have some measure of agency. In other words, the reader has some ability over what he or she reads next. … [In creating a complex story or game] [b]ecause hypertext branches so much, it’s easy to get lost in your own work. Much of Twine is dedicated to helping you keep track of your work’s structure visually with a story map, so you can see what your readers’ experience will be like.

Can you build games with Twine? Of course! Twine has the capability to do conditional logic, so if the protagonist finds a key in an early part of the story, he or she can use it to open a door later on. It can also incorporate variables, which encompass the traditional trappings of games such as hit points and score. These, along with agency, are foundational concepts of interactivity, the currency of game design.

Beyond the gamification possibilities and the ability to create interactive narratives, Twine, and similar applications such as Inform 7 and Inklewriter, could be used more broadly for any activity that involves thinking critically about a decision process. Assignments that involve constructing a logic argument, inserting variables into an experimental model, or constructing hypothetical scenarios could all benefit from the features of Twine. Being able to “play” through the story map allows one to quickly identify flaws or problems.

There is a wiki full of information about using Twine. Get started with Twine 2: How to create your first story. Be sure you read Where Your Stories Are Saved before you start to avoid losing your work.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay.com

 

Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning

As I have signed up for several Coursera MOOCs, I now benefit from getting advance notice of MOOCs being offered in my areas of previously indicated interest. A few weeks back I was made aware of a MOOC being offered by the University of Houston, Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools. I’m not in it for certification, so I find MOOCs can be a quick and easy way to review concepts, learn new material, and find out about useful resources.

Screen shot from Coursera MOOC Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools with title laid over small images of app logos.Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools is in week three of a five week course, but it’s not too late to sign up if you want to avail yourself of some new ideas and resources. I like the weekly format: there are three short (5-6 minute) videos on a topic (so far, communication, collaboration, and creativity; coming up will be utilizing your toolbox and lifelong learning), three 4-5 minute scenarios, and three examples of tools or applications to try out. The range is broad, covering K-Higher Ed, so some of the material may not be relevant to your use.

The key takeaway for me has been in the area of how to decide on which application or tool to use.  This was addressed in one of the introductory videos, So Many Tools… So Little Time. In the video we are told to think of using new teaching and learning tools as acquiring new skills. It’s important to pick the right tool for your task. You should have a reason (need) to use a tool and seek help in finding the best tool for your need. Turn to your colleagues and institutional experts, especially instructional support staff if available. Practice using the tool before unleashing it on your students. Understand that your skill (and your students’) will improve with use. Evaluate how the tool is serving your need.

Another thing to keep in mind is that applications that are web or cloud-based and not licensed by your institution may not have guaranteed sustainability. If you are thinking of adopting a tool for use over a longer period of time, you should research the history of the company to determine likely longevity, updating, and maintenance of your account. Google applications are more likely to be around in a year than an app that a couple of high school students have put together as a fun project. Also make sure that you keep local copies of your content in case the application does disappear. Check to see if there are ways to download or export your content after you or your class have completed the project.

If signing up for the MOOC does not appeal, you can skip straight to the University of Houston’s College of Education website Laboratory for Innovative Technology in Education where tools are listed by type. Scroll down to 21st Century Tools to see the categories.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Screenshot of https://class.coursera.org/newtechtools-002/wiki/GettingStarted

Padlet – A Web and Mobile App with Possibilities

One of my favorite activities as an instructional designer is seeking out and experimenting with new applications. Some of these are web-based and work best on laptops or desktops, others are designed for mobile devices, some are platform specific (Mac, Windows, Android, iOS) and some work well regardless of your hardware and software. Finding apps that have potential for classroom use is always rewarding, especially if the app is free and easy to use. Enter Padlet, a web-based application that gives you a “wall” (think of it as a multimedia bulletin board) that you can drag and drop content onto in service of any number of pedagogical objectives.

Example of a Padlet Wall: photo exhibit of cemetery.A Padlet wall can be adapted for many uses. The first thought I had was to create an exhibit using photographs I had taken at a cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina that had been originally used for slave burials. It was easy to drag images and a text document onto the wall (which can be customized using a number of different backgrounds), and to use the built-in text boxes for annotation.  Audio and video clips can also be inserted, as well links to web materials. In less than 10 minutes, I had a photo exhibition. I’ve recommended other applications for faculty who want students to create online exhibits including Google Sites, WordPress, and Omeka. These offer more features and flexibility, but for being easy to use, Padlet takes the prize.

Other uses include creating timelines, assembling evidence to support an argument, building a visual data set (the world map background might be particularly useful for such an exercise), or to create an online poster presentation. See the Padlet gallery for more ideas.

Padlet’s website lists the application’s features. It can be used as a collaborative tool with team members’ additions appearing instantaneously, making it great for groups that aren’t co-located. The privacy settings are flexible. I set my wall to public so that you could see it, but it’s also possible to keep it completely private or to give others access and set permissions as to their use. Moreover, it works on your laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet.

Take a few minutes and check out Padlet. How would you use it as an instructor?

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Screenshot of Padlet Wall by Macie Hall

These are a few of our favorite… apps!

Faculty often ask CER staff about our favorite smart phone apps. There are many categories of apps including entertainment, games, books, lifestyle, productivity, communication, collaboration, news, shopping, social, and education. This post will focus on apps that can enrich the teaching experience or help instructors with their daily work flow.

Control
Apps like “Gmote” for Android and “Touch Mouse” for iOS allow you to control a computer’s cursor from across the room using your smart phone. This can un-tether instructors or presenters from podiums and allow them to walk about freely while controlling their presentations. The “Crestron Mobile for iOS”  and “Crestron Mobile for Android” apps allow these devices to control lights, media, climate and projector controls remotely in any of the “smart” classrooms at JHU. Contact IT@JH for information on using this app in specific classrooms on the JHU Homewood campus.

File Management
Android has a convenient app for managing the files on your device: “ES File Explorer.” With it you can move, copy, rename, make folders, and even unzip compressed packages. It also comes with a simple text/image viewer to give you a better sense of the content of a file.

File Transfer
When you need to make files available for multiple people to view later or on a different computer, “Dropbox” for iOS and Android lets you store your files “in the cloud” for sharing. Using “SkyDrive” with your Windows Phone affords a similar ever-present file repository.

Note Taking
Simplenote” and “Evernote” are very popular, easy to use programs that let you
take notes, tag them, and sync them with your computer from an iOS device. The
latter has more features, such as storing audio, images, and maps, and it is available
for both Android and WP7.5. WP7.5 also comes with “OneNote Mobile,” which
gives you more features than the basic note taking app.

 Photography
One of the most useful aspects of a smart phone is the ability to take photos. Each
device comes with basic camera functionality, but apps like “Camera Zoom FX” for Android and “Camera+” for iOS will give you control of the camera’s settings, increase the chances you’ll take a good photo, and support post-production editing/enhancing of the photos. “Thumba Photo Editor” for WP7.5 also allows you to extend your post-production editing options and edit GPS data. If a single photo doesn’t do your location justice, apps like “360 Panorama” and “PhotoSynth” for iOS and WP7.5 can stitch photos together for a panoramic experience.

Reader
The portability of a smart phone makes it easier to bring your normally heavy
reading material with you wherever you go. Apps like “Instapaper” and “Pocket” (formerly Read It Later) for iOS and Android allow you to save, sort, and share webpages with or
without images for reading anytime, even if you don’t have a cellphone signal or
wireless internet connection. The “GoodReader” app for iOS is a robust reader
that allows you to render just about any file, annotate PDFs, view videos and share
what you’ve read with others. The “Kindle” app is available for every device; it
allows you to sync and read all your purchased Amazon e-books.

Reference
With information at your fingertips anytime, reference apps like “Merriam-
Webster’s Dictionary” for iOS and Android will ensure you are never at a loss for
words. And when your reference material needs to be translated to different languages,
“Google Translate,” also for iOS and Android, allows you to write or speak words
for translation to over 20 different languages. “Wolfram Alpha,” another great reference
app available for iOS and Android, gives you robust answers to technical questions.

Task Management
Everyday tasks can be managed through your smart phone using apps like
Remember the Milk” on an iOS or Android device; Windows Phone has a task
manager built in. Staying on schedule is made easier by the app’s ability to sort,
send notifications, and sync with your computer.

Where to get apps
Online app stores are available for each device operating system:

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer
Center for Educational Resources


Image source: © Reid Sczerba