Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Smart Phone Anki classes

In an earlier post, I wrote about the significant changes I made in a class from first to second semester:

1) meeting once a week in a computer lab so students could make their own decks and cards

2) incorporating more hands-on pair Anki work with student pairs quizzing each other on their decks via smart phones in class.

It will be interesting to compare their questionnaire and Anki usage statistic results as it was the same group of students studying the same material. However, that is for another post and/or another paper.

Other opportunities I had in this past semester to try different ways of teaching with Anki were two English Communication classes. These are elective classes, so the students usually are motivated, but also the teacher has the freedom to teach whatever they want.

As many teachers do not have ready access to computer labs, but more and more students have smart phones (a term which will also include other devices like iPod Touches and iPads), I decided to incorporate what I had learned about teaching with Anki from first semester into the classroom but by mobile device only.

An interesting side note: When I first started teaching in Tokyo three years ago, very few students had western-style smart phones (primarily iPhones). The Japanese cell phones very were very advanced in their own way but did not have the same finger swipe/drag interface or large, bright screens for Internet browsing, media or games. Now, however, almost all of my students either have iPhones or some type of Android based smart phone.

The plan worked out that at least half of the students had smart phones, and so with pair work, there was always be enough hardware in the class. I also brought my own iPod Touch and netbook (laptop) to class to lend to student pairs in case of battery failure or other problems.

Overall, the classes were successful in terms of exposing students to Anki and helping me see strengths and weaknesses in my attempts to use Anki in the classroom.
Many of the problems were related to classroom management, technological problems, and other details.

Sometimes all the time spent explaining Anki to students, helping them fix problems with decks/cards/username/password in class, waiting for students to login in, keeping students focused on task and not speaking Japanese with each other, etc., seemed quite inefficient and felt very frustrating. However, if we feel that Anki is important enough that our students should understand it and learn how to use it, then this may be the price to pay. There may never be a perfect system, but by our successes and failures, we can get better and better at it...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rich,

    Thanks for posting this! This is really interesting.

    I spent 18months studying Japanese here in Tokyo where I used Anki a lot. It really helped but I often felt it would be better to have cards produced by a teacher (or native speaker).

    For example, I started trying to find example sentences to see how words are used in context and then make clozes from them. However, I used sentences from the Tanaka corpus and my (Japanese) housemates just laughed--they said the sentences were so unnatural. I've since found the ALC ones are better but often too complicated. A native speaker could easily produce a series of good simple example sentences showing how a word is naturally used.

    Likewise, even for nouns, if I am making a picture flashcard for 'houchou', I might just choose any image of a knife, but for native Japanese speakers there's a difference in mental image between 'houchou' and 'naifu'. If a teacher was making the card, they'd choose an image that matches what they consider a stereotypical 'houchou' and help the students to develop a similar association in their minds.

    I feel Anki is a little bit complicated for most people (especially all the abstract concepts behind cards, decks, and facts) so I only recommend it to tech-savvy friends. It's a shame because it's so useful and it seems like it should be possible to simplify things down.

    It also sounds like you could use some group management features.

    Thanks again, and all the best for your presentation!