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.