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Quizlet in the classroom - a discussion

February 24, 2007

A number of teachers have contacted me recently expressing concern about the Discussion and Private Message features. The recent poll also roused some complaints about the potential of a forum feature.

So I'd like to take a moment to discuss the general social atmosphere of Quizlet and how I envision it working best. The sentiment I'm hearing from teachers is:

Quizlet is impossible to use in a classroom setting because students get distracted by the Discussion and Private messages features.

I'm at a large-ish public high school myself, and I know first-hand how easy it is to get distracted online. I can easily imagine how Quizlet would become hard, if not impossible, to use in a classroom.

Quizlet was not built to be a classroom tool, per se. The teachers at my school have recommended/suggested to their students that Quizlet might come in handy as a supplement to their classes. And that's what has worked best. It doesn't take class time, and students use it at their own will. Quizlet is a tool for self-improvement. It is not meant to be used as a grading metric of any sort. It would be too easy to cheat anyway.

The key difference is that when students use Quizlet on their own, they're doing it to help themselves. When they do it in the classroom, they're doing it because the teacher told them to. I believe the first scenario works better in every way. People learn more that way too.

For teachers, I think recommending Quizlet to students is the right way to go. Even going down to the computer lab to introduce it and show people around is a great idea. But making it required curriculum is asking for trouble, it seems. I think it would be great if this scenario could change, and Quizlet could be used effectively in a classroom setting. Suggestions on how to make that happen are welcome.

Every feature I add to Quizlet is carefully considered and weighed for its costs and benefits. Me being in high school and having some puerile need to socialize has nothing to do with it. I am of the mind that the Discussion feature's potential benefits outweigh any drawbacks. It can be used for reporting typos on a set, suggesting new terms to add, inquire about the day's homework, and discussing tests. These are all good reasons to have the discussion feature, and these discussions have been happening on Quizlet.

However, I'm not blind to the fact that people have been using the discussion box for other things. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and free discussion is a good thing. It's only when this discussion interferes with Quizlet's purpose of learning vocabulary does it become a problem.

I've played with the idea of allowing set/group creators (in this case, teachers) to disable the Discussion features. That might stop some users from "messing around" in the classroom, but generally I think people are smarter than that. They'll figure out that they can just create their own set and carry on their discussions there, or hijack someone else's sets. So I think that option isn't worthwhile.

I could also just do away with the discussion and private messages features, fullstop. I think that would ruin some of the great strengths that Quizlet has: being able to share your sets, to know what to study, and to interact with people learning the same material you are. The Japanese Learners Group is a great example of why this shouldn't happen. With over 100 users and 40 sets, it's one of the biggest groups on Quizlet. And it seems to be working out well, with users from all over the world helping each other learn Japanese. Removing the social features of Quizlet would harm this group and ones like it a great deal.

For a forums feature, the potential for unrelated discussion is very high. But then again, the potential for usefulness is very high. A lot of it depends on how it is implemented. If I were to add a forum feature, I would hope to channel some of the greatness of WordReference's forums. Thousands of users exchange language expertise and word knowledge on them; Quizlet has a similar goal.

To put it plainly, the idea of Quizlet becoming like MySpace scares me a great deal. That's not the direction I intend to steer Quizlet.

This post is intended to be taken with a grain of salt. I do not have any first-hand knowledge of Quizlet in classrooms, and I'm certainly not a teacher. I'm sure some teachers could add a lot of insight to my assessments. I know that it's helped me a lot for all my classes though. I hope to see the comment section of this post filled with opposing opinions.

If you would like to get in contact with me directly, send your email to andrewatquizletdotcom or send me a private message. I'd prefer you broadcast your thoughts via the comments though, so everyone can join in the discussion. I'll be on-hand to answer questions and discuss this post.

Comments

  1. NeilKelty

    Great post! Absolutely wonderful. I don't mean to be rude to any teachers here, but I think removing any of the features that Quizlet has right now is a step backward. You're focusing on the students and that's where I think you need to be focusing. Teachers have plenty of ways to test their students, Quizlet doesn't need to be one of them. Not yet, not now. Maybe there could be some features that would enable them to use Quizlet and I've got a few ideas for that.

    1. Exportable tests - all the teachers to export tests they create using the sets into PDF, DOC, or even TXT format. This would enable them to create a set, all the students to study that set, and then the teacher creates a test/quiz based on that set.

    2. Worksheets, Crossword Puzzles, Word Searches: Right now this is a missing link the in the Internet world. Sure, I can head over to PuzzleMaker and whip me up and Word Search all fine and dandy, but it's so hard to do - sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. I dream of something more reliable and I think that you have all the tools at your disposal to make that a reality. I really think this is the real future of Quizlet - things I can print out and take with me.

    3. A Secure Testing Environment: This is the most farfectched and probably nearly impossible to implement within a BIG TEAM and lots of money. In Indiana, we take tests called Core 40 Tests at the end of a few core subjects (hence the name :)). These are taken through a web browser, and if you as much as hit minimize you are locked out of your test. This would be the way Quizlet could do graded tests online, but I still think that this isn't the way you want to go - but if you'd like to eventually supply some sort of solution for tests online then this would probably be the way to go.

    However, as much as you don't want to see Quizlet turn into MySpace, I'd really like to not see Quizlet turn into a teacher oriented website - that wasn't you're mission from the outset- or you're pretty good a deception :)- and I don't think making teachers and testing a priority.

    I think that Quizlet should used as an extension for learning, not the tool for testing. If teachers start using Quizlet to test, the image will change and I don't think the students will feel the same "homelyness" that they once felt.

    Now that I've drowned everyone in words, I'm interested in knowing what others think, I'm sure I'll be adding plenty more later.
    - Neil

  2. HEwhoisnameless

    Neil, points are truly valid, Quizlet is definatly the best way to study, it helps with the study guides from aGoodgrade.com, a wiki study website

  3. Nik

    I agree wholeheartedly with NeilKelty. I see Quizlet as tackling learning from the perspective of the student, not the teacher. Other sites already appeal to teachers, but few to students, and none as well as Quizlet.

    One of Quizlet's best features, furthermore, is the communal aspect. You aren't just using this service by yourself – there's a whole community to share with. This is particularly handy when you use other people's sets to learn without the work of making them, or when groups edit sets to make then more accurate and easier to use. I believe that this community based learning was part of your intentions, Andrew, and it seems to me to have been wonderfully successful. Discussions and Private Messages are great tools, and, when used properly, significantly aid the learning process. As with most great tools, they can be misused, too. This in and of itself, however, is not a reason to get rid of them.

    With that said, I think that the learning market is huge and your talents great. You've formed a parent company, Brainflare, and I think this is your chance to use it. You could apply your talents to making a sister site for Quizlet, and this time approach learning from the teacher's perspective. Quizlet could be used for studying for tests, and this sister site could be used for administering them. I understand you're busy right now, and this is just an idea to consider for the future of Brainflare.

    At any rate, Quizlet is pretty clearly a community for student-based learning, not a method for teacher-based testing. I think it succeeds phenomenally as the former, but I recommend not trying to incorporate the later to such a degree that it interferes with Quizlet's mission. When the two aren't mutually exclusive, by all means expand. But I don't think Quizlet should get muddled between purposes.

  4. claynoik

    I totally agree, keep the discussion and message features.

    It's the personal, friendly and sociable nature of Quizlet which makes it exceptional.

    I am a member of the Japanese group, and am teaching myself Japanese. The discussion options are most welcome as they make study less solitary, and hence a much more enjoyable experience.

  5. HEwhoisnameless

    Claynoik try these japanese podcast for japanese 1 I hear Japanese

  6. Julius Polonius

    Here is a proposed solution to the social issue: the ability to create an "academic account". I have seen something similar to this on bedfordstmartins.com and number2.com, and can testify to its efficacy:

    1) When registering, the user has the option of a social account (the current manifestation) or an "academic" account.
    2) The "academic" account is completely private and anonymous - it can not use private messages, can not be private messaged, and the discussion box is disabled. Its name will not appear on any publicly viewable lists/statistics, and its sets can not be made public.
    3) When the user chooses to have an "academic" account, the user can specify the option of entering an accountname as a "teacher".
    4) When a "teacher" account is entered, the academic account is a "sub-account", where the teacher can monitor the behavior of each sub-account. NOTE: "stacking" must be prevented - i.e., if one is a "sub-account", one can not also be a "teacher"
    5) If a "teacher" or "sub-account" creates a set, it is visible to all others who are "linked" to that person who created the set, but to no one else.
    6) "Lists" (statistics of who took the test and how much that are displayed on every set) are only viewable by the "teacher" and linked "sub-accounts".

    Therefor, those who want to be social can do so, but those who do not for whatever reason can choose seclusion.

    PS: When entering definitions, the user must click another box to move there. I believe it would be faster to allow the user to simply use the down arrow key to move from box to box, though I am uncertain as to how one could move from word to definition.

  7. Andrew

    @Neil and Nik: thanks for the insight. Good to hear the issue from a students perspective.

    @Julius,

    Hmmmmmmmmm. It sounds convoluted to me. I think if I were to implement something like that, it would be an offshoot of Quizlet, perhaps licensed to school districts. I don't think mixing the academic accounts with the "social" accounts would work. Besides, I'm not sure if I exactly support an autocratic system of teachers controlling everything.

    Re: P.S. Yeah, instead of pressing [+] you can use the TAB key on the last input on the last row. Try it :)

  8. Dmitri Rostropovich

    Andrew,

    Though your disposition indicates you do not plan to implement the features suggested by Julius Polonius, will you please consider the privacy options mentioned, or increased privacy options in general?

  9. Registered99

    Please don't put teacher restrictions in. I'd rather have the time spent on other areas of the site than restriction.

  10. kate

    Ok... I'm a teacher and I LOVE using Quizlet in my classroom! And yes, I LOVE the chat feature too! And yes, I use the chat feature in my classroom too. In fact, my principal observed my class while we were making podcasts AND using quizlet. he LOVED it.

    To get around the concerns of the "chat", I created a private group for my classes - and they all know that I can "monitor" their chat. I required them to use a name I would recognize (from our class forums/website or from class, etc) so *IF* comments get out of line, I can manage it that way.

    To be honest, the chat feature is no different that managing a classroom. Let's say I pass out a class activity, students are going to be on/off task as normal - totally dependent on my classroom management and our mutual respect or activity requirements.

    While the private messaging is not monitorable from the same standpoint as any electronic activity - email, web messaging, myspace, etc. Again, I truly believe that boundaries are established more through mutual respect and maturity. I know that not everyone will use the tools for beneficial/helpful gain - but I also know that I can NOT control *everyone's* behavior/choices. If there is "bullying" etc via messages, I hope that the affected/impacted parties would bring it to my attention just like any other action in the classroom that may harm/bully.

    I hope this hurried response to this interesting discussion is comprehensible. I'll check back when I have more time to get further involved with the discussion.

  11. alicia

    Kate-

    This is from a 5th grade student:

    The principal at your school actually LIKES the podcasts? My principal would probably go crazy if he saw the podcasts. He doesn't like stuff like that. I wish he did. Anyway, we don't use Quizlet at our school, but I wish we did.

  12. Kate

    Yes, my principal LOVES them! We are trying to work out a way for him to produce his own mini-podcast (weekly?) about school news, etc for the school website. Fun, huh?

    Anything is possible!

    I actually think most teachers/principals don't do podcasts, etc because they don't (1) feel comfortable NOT being the "expert" and (2) don't know how to manage the "unknown" in the classroom.

    Bah... it's okay with me. I know there are students in the classroom that may know MUCh more about all of this than I .. and that is COOL and helpful! I appreciate the team effort when taking on the unknown/unexplored in class. =)

    Alicia -
    Maybe with your help, your teachers and principals will find out how engaging and interesting these things are =). Go for it!

  13. craiglist

    Interesting blog

  14. Timoty

    cool blog!

  15. Tima

    nice photos of this blog

  16. RaymonWazerri

    Hey,
    I love what you'e doing!
    Don't ever change and best of luck.

    Raymon W.

  17. Erin Nolan

    erin33 is my username. this post is for german 1.

  18. SAL10 

    good job

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