Friday, December 30, 2011

"Forced" Anki use - pros and cons?

So far, I have not required my students to use Anki outside of class. One of the main reasons is that I cannot yet think of a good way to do it - i.e. accurately assess/monitor if they actually do it.

Soren, an Anki user and advocate, wrote a good article about Anki use cheating and how to stop it that discusses some really interesting ideas.

However, I think there is a larger issue. Most of us use Anki because we really want to learn our subject and know it is very effective. We have positive feelings and associations with Anki.

If we "force" (require) our students to use it AND somehow figure out a way to stop cheating, do we run the risk of alienating our students to Anki, especially to the point where they will not use it in other classes and in the future?

What is more important? Giving the students the opportunity to experience Anki in a way that will lead to some fully embracing it but allowing some to opt out? Or requiring its use, knowing that it is good for them (like vegetables)?

It is kind of a "Is the glass half full or half empty" question.

What do you think?


  1. These are exactly the things I worry about.
    You could maybe pull somethings off like this:
    You say that all the things they need to know are in anki, so they can use anki and copy it from anki to a paper and then learn with their way, or for the heck of it, they can just use anki...
    Then check the test results of those who used anki and those who didn't. You can know who used anki by looking at the graphs. Then there is a high chance it won't differ much. But a month later check the test results again after giving a pop quiz of words from the previous part. Now probably those who still use anki to learn the new words will have been keep doing reviews olso of old cards. Then you can check the test results, and voila! Anki wins! xD You ask their accounts to access their graphs, print out some graphs, and demonstrate in class how those who used anki have good grades even after a month has passed.
    Then you can stop using anki all together to let loose of the idea of making it a stress point and see what happens. Maybe some kids will start using it only when you stop forcing or mentioning it. That's when you really have helped people for life I guess.

    It's not the perfect solution though...

    What do you think?

  2. I wrote some scribbles on this problem a little while ago. Here's the basics of what I had to say.

    > However, I think there is a larger issue. Most of us use Anki because we really want to learn our subject and know it is very effective. We have positive feelings and associations with Anki.

    Agreed. I wrote four reasons why people don't use Anki outside of class, and/or don't do it properly. (And from my experience, they definitely don't. I've counted seven people now in my class alone who have admitted to me that they cheat on their Anki assignment. That's why I wrote that graphs article.)

    1. Laziness. Anki (or any other form of spaced repetition) requires a lot of hard work and discipline. It's not trivial at all.

    2. Lack of Caring. I don't know how much of a problem this is for you, but where I am there's quite a number of students who take a foreign language only to get the credits for doing so. They don't actually want to learn the language. (This could apply to any other discipline as well, but I think it's a particular problem with languages.) If they don't want to learn, they have no reason to use Anki (unless some other incentive is provided whereby they do terribly in the class if they don't).

    3. Lack of Understanding. People don't know just how useful spaced repetition is. The unfortunate thing is that it's a pretty complicated concept to fully understand. You probably need to do some research if you want to grasp it fully. Sure you can do a demonstration of something you've memorized, or you can throw out some statistics and theory, but ultimately only some experience will give you that understanding.

    4. Lack of Desire for Knowledge (and Memory). People don't understand why it's good to know things. There's been a lot of emphasis lately (at least where I am) about cutting down on "rote memorization." I like the idea in theory, but in practice it means that people aren't learning much. The most basic formulas are provided on all standardized tests. Give me a break, people can't be expected to know the formula for the area of a circle after using it for four years in math class?

  3. (continued)

    I have some (very, very limited) experience with this. I coach a couple of events for Science Olympiad (a U.S. middle- and high school competitive association). Last year I decided to try to get some people using Anki in my event. I took thirty minutes to show them the program in a computer lab on the first day, told them how to go install it, and let them be. Nobody tried it.

    This year I've tried a slightly different approach. First of all, I helped everyone through the process of setting up AnkiWeb. Every week since, I've been giving them some time to work (but I still expect them to work at home). I also took your advice and tried walking around trying to help people figure out how to actually study. After three weeks, I gave them a quiz. Highest score? A ten. Out of twenty.

    I wrote in my notebook, "On the other hand, people were doing a crappy job at actually remembering stuff. I saw one person with a stack of 59 failed cards (in a deck of 82)." I think this might be a serious problem with out-of-class work--if people don't understand how to properly use the software (in this case, I noticed that he was just flipping through failed cards without actually taking the time to look at and remember them), then they will merely think it doesn't work and is a failure. Similarly, my mother had a student who said that he was "just bad at memorizing things." In the course of further discussion, she learned that when he got a card wrong, he didn't select Again because then he "would only know it because he had just seen it."

    Now, my event isn't over yet. We have about two months left. We'll see how it goes there.

    But anyway, I digress. My main point (besides some insight on perhaps why Anki doesn't always work for people and what we might be able to do about it) was that I don't think anybody will take the option of trying it out if they're not "forced" to. (Of course *some* people will; where do all the users of spaced repetition software come from? But very few will.) And I doubt that forcing people to use Anki will put anybody off except for the ones who wouldn't have tried it in the first place.

  4. Dear Mesqueeb and Soren,

    Thanks for the comments! You raise some really important points when it comes to requiring students to use Anki.

    It seems that Anki is only truly effective if people understand what it is and embrace it. They have to want to use Anki to learn the material. Otherwise, it is just another annoying thing that the teacher is forcing them to do.

    So perhaps our only hope is to set up an enjoyable learning environment so the students can use Anki in and out of the class to successfully learn the content. We give them the chance to experience Anki, in a way where they will learn by using it in class, and maybe, maybe, realize its worth and take it with them to other classes...

    We all have good intentions and want to help people learn with Anki because we feel it is so wonderful. However, we can't force them...

    Hope you had a good holidays! We just got back from 10 days of cross country skiing and deep snow in Hokkaido. Tokyo feels warm in comparision...



  5. Hi Rich,

    I'm only just commenting now as I didn't know about this blog before! I teach at high school, but I come across many of the same issues that you do. One of them being, convincing kids to use this program...

    My experience/reasons are as follows:

    1. People find it difficult to use. Once you are used to Anki it seems like a dream (especially from the iPhone app) but when you take a step back and look at it, setting up/logging in can be quite a task, and it doesn't have the kind of interface that guides you through it. Saying that, it is a freeware software which when compared to something like SmartFM which costs money is much better and much more customizable! But, I also think it is a truth when trying to present this software to the general population. People are used to more and more user-friendly interfaces, 'one touch' installs etc.

    2. Lack of motivation - definitely the same as the people who have posted above. Who needs to say more? Not only high school students, but I have friends from university who have marveled at my marks on the JLPT, asked me how I do it and when I tell them... do nothing. I think that you really need to want something like this, but also..

    3. Know the benefits. Which can be pretty hard to do... as suggested above, introduce it and try and let kids discover the benefits for themselves. One other thing that has worked for me is to focus on just one or two students - they are more likely to do it because they have been picked out to try it. If everyone notices their progress suddenly speed up, then you have a success.

    I definitely don't think you can force people into doing this. As amazing as we all think it is and as sound as the theory is... people also have different learning styles and paces!

  6. Hi,

    I've been grappling with this one for a while. I have one Japanese class comprised of two different year levels, and so Anki has proved an excellent way of giving the students who don't have my attention some very productive, useful work to do.

    Motivation is the biggest killer of potentially great improvements via using Anki. Some kids just don't want to use it EVEN when they can see the benefits it gives. But that's an old problem and I doubt any program, no matter how useful or engaging, will solve that for every student. Teachers are still needed...

    (BTW I use Anki personally to help with my Spanish, and it is incredibly useful, as I'm sure we all know!)

    The best way I've found to get around the "cheating"/"monitoring" problem is to set up a shared Dropbox folder with each individual student, and have them store their Anki deck in there. This way, I can open their decks and see their stats from my end weekly, and monitor any weird patterns or plain old cheating. I also spend a few classes sitting down with each student and talking about how they use Anki (i.e., how should they be scoring themselves) and talk to them about their statistics - basically so they know I can understand how they are using it and are less likely to try and cheat. It's very easy to paint the picture for them when you have all of their up to date statistics available.

    A good way to get the kids to really use it is by connecting Anki with assessment, by specifying how much you want them to use it within a given time frame, and then giving a grade associated with how close they came to meeting the usage requirement.

    The only problem using Dropbox in this way can cause is the production of conflicting files, which can mess up the students statistics if the deck files aren't cleaned up. The way to fix this apparently is by "hiding" the deck on my end once I've checked it, that way the deck is not checked by Anki (and therefore modified for Dropbox purposes).