Learning With Games: Lumosity

I promised in my first week of blogging that I’d write about some of the learning tools now available online. I wrote about Duolingo, and I suppose I ought to provide an update before diving into a whole ‘nother topic.

Duolingo Update: Mixed results. After a few weeks, I slowed down in my training. Caught up in school, perhaps, I stopped taking the daily time to practice. I have started again in fits, and hopefully the reminder emails will keep me from losing track again.

The web version is indeed better than the mobile app, and because I don’t like the vocal practice parts, I have turned that function off. The drills are good, although I sometimes get frustrated when I make a small error and it costs me the last life in my lesson. (The game-style exercises have me hooked!)

Potatoes under the faucet

Wir waschen diese Kartoffeln

 

Hopefully, my slow, inconsistent efforts to learn German will be aided by my attempt to use another online learning resource…

Lumosity

What’s a lumosity?

Well, lumosity is a website with a suite of games promised to make your brain work better. From the promotional content on the website:

Challenge your brain with scientifically designed training

Build your Personalized Training Program:

Train memory and attention

Web-based personalized training program

Track your progress

Cool sounding, if it works. So how is it?

I have only been on for a few days, but so far it seems promising. Some of the games seem badly designed, but most of the ones I have played are a good mix of challenge and relaxation that generally make games appealing. I went ahead and paid for the real version, so that I would have access to the full range of tools they provide. What kind of tools, you ask? Read on!

Games

Lumosity is mostly games! The games are broken down into categories: Speed, Memory, Attention, Flexibility, and Problem Solving. As boldly proclaimed on my training dashboard when I log in, many of the games are based on tasks used in neuropsychological studies. So, they redesigned and repackaged some games that researchers use to measure different brain functions. Seems legit.

Video Games. Awesome.

Awesome.

The site links to some research about their program. From my brief glance around the web, a few of the results are contested, but most are generally positive.

My favorite games so far are the flexibility games – they challenge you to switch mental tasks quickly – between, for instance, recognizing letters and numbers, or the direction of arrows and their movement. They require careful attention, but they are very satisfying to do well.

I think I am learning the most from the memory games. Trying to keep track of shapes or symbols is challenging, but I imagine that it is sharpening my brain. Memory is one of my weaker areas, according to the site’s performance indices, so hopefully I have some room to improve.

Daily Workout

Leaping amidst a field of workout balls

Sort of like this! [from health.com]

The point of lumosity is not to waste your time on internet games. Instead, the structure of the site points you towards a daily workout regimen – for your brain. An email prompts you to visit the site to train on five short games – about 10 or 15 minutes total – each day. I set it so that I get my reminder email in the morning, but you can change the email settings to suit your inbox needs.

Before the games of your daily workout, the site prompts you to rate your mood and the number of hours you slept the night before. This simple rating system, on top of the more complex points and evaluation system for the games, helps you with…

Testing and Tracking

I have long been interested in the quantified self movement and philosophy, but I have never been able to establish a habit of tracking anything about myself. The daily mood and sleep check-in help me catalogue two crucial metrics.  I get to tie all my habits together into a single step; clicking the link in the reminder email takes me to the workout and the tracking.

Stopwatch

A New Record! (I yield to the pun temptation: quantified self = stopwatching me)

I have not spent enough time on the site to have amassed useful data, but I am excited to see quantified improvement over time. Some of it will come from learning the particular tasks required in the games, but hopefully some of the gains will be real.

 

 

All in all, I am excited by the cool new ways of learning that technology makes possible. Tools like lumosity are answering some of those ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ questions, particularly ‘wouldn’t it be cool if learning was more fun?’ and ‘wouldn’t it be cool if I could train my brain to be smarter?’

It is cool! It is cool indeed!

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Learning about the Internet (An introduction for the curious)

I am often surprised when I meet incurious people. As a curious person myself, I am always trying to understand. I love to know the particulars about a subject, but I often find that the most useful knowledge is general – how do the basics of banking work? What are the main types of animals and plants? About how many people live on each continent?

Antarctic Penguins

And how many penguins?

This kind of general knowledge lends insight into daily questions – underlying concepts help frame new data. For instance, knowing a tiny bit about how the international money supply works means that when I see the headline “IMF’s global forecast is most optimistic since crisis,” I know that

  • IMF is the International Monetary Fund, and that
  • if the global forecast is optimistic, they may be more likely to lend, which will probably
  • impact negotiations in and about Ukraine.

Not that this particular information changes things, but you can see how earlier curiosity about the general Way Things Work pays off.

So, what are the basic things everyone ought to know?

This question has plagued me and many others since forever. Should we read all the Classic literature? How far do we need to go in Math? Science? Geography, History, Politics? Pop culture? Classic Movies? I call the general problem of ‘what content to choose’ the Selection Problem. I don’t have a name for this specific subproblem, the “what should everyone know?” question, but I have thought about it lots and still only have musings, not a solid answer.

The big, starry universe.

It’s a big ol’ place. And complicated! (image not to scale)

It seems likely that we ought to know the basics about the big stuff – the things we interact with every day, the things that shape our lives. We ought to know how our food and water get to us, how people and the universe work. A passing familiarity with money and politics and geography and history are likely candidates. From the post title, you can probably guess that I would also include a basic knowledge of the technology underneath the Internet.

With the onward march of technological progress, there has been a growing movement for young people to learn more about technology, particularly coding. It’s mostly worked! Lots of people have at least seen code, and maybe written a little bit. They still don’t know the big picture stuff, but at least they know that computers are good at following specific directions and bad at knowing what you want them to do.

Even if you have seen some code and you’ve remember from somewhere that the Internet was started in 1969 by some scientists or the military or someone somewhere,

1) You are reading this on a computer, and probably 2) have only a fuzzy idea of how the words got to your screen.

Lucky for you, I just built a website (knommon.com – go check it out!) and through that process, I learned a ton about how the internet works! I’m here to share what I learned with you.

(Note: This is just an intro, and might be flawed: there are lots of other places to read about this, in any level of detail. Search on the terms mentioned here to find literally thousands of pages explaining what’s going on)

So, the Internet is a series of tubes. Right? Haha, ah, hahaha. ha.

All jokes aside, tubes is not a very useful analogy. I think a much better image is a food court! That’s the one I’m sticking with.

A food court

A fancy one, with lanterns! (also not to scale, though it is closer)

So, you have your computer, and there are lots of other computers around the world. Some of the computers are like yours – desktops, laptops, phones – in our analogy, the hungry mall-goer looking for a bite to eat. There are also big, professional computers, the ‘servers’ that you have heard about but maybe not grokked. They are like the kitchens behind the food court storefronts, ready to produce your food for you.

What does a meal consist of? How do you find it and get it? In a food court, it’s pretty easy. On the internet, it’s less familiar.

Let’s start with what you already know – what you do to access the internet.

You fire up a web browser, Chrome or Safari or Firefox or Explorer or Opera (okay, not many of you are on Opera). You use the search engine or enter a url into the address bar. The page shows up, or it gives you an error. You do whatever you came to do, browsing, reading, clicking links, playing games, signing in and out, adding items to a virtual shopping cart – generally, conducting transactions.

What happens back in the kitchens that lets you get the food you want? Underneath the pretty layout of your browser, and floating in ‘the cloud’ is the cool software that makes web browsing possible. Step by step:

1. You enter a url (Uniform Resource Locator – the address you type at the top, it starts with ‘http’)  in the browser. This is like you deciding what type of food you want to eat – for this example, Chinese. But, your browser doesn’t know where to look to find that page – so it has to look!

2. The browser tries to find out what server that url represents. To find out, it does a Domain Name System (DNS) lookup. DNS is big and hairy and complicated (like some of the mall maps I’ve seen), but you can think of it as asking some mall staff person where to get Chinese food – they might know, or might not, but if they don’t, they’ll at least point you to someone else who knows. Your browser sends a message to the local DNS server, probably the one provided by your internet provider e.g. Verizon, which might or might not know the location of the server you want – it might ask some other DNS server.

3. DNS lookup returns the Internet Protocol (IP) address that corresponds with the url that you entered. The IP address lets your browser locate and send messages to the server where the webpage you want is stored. It’s like knowing which restaurant in the food court to go to if you want Chinese food.

4. Your browser sends a request to the server located at the IP address it found through the DNS lookup. Once you know where to get the food, you go and put your order in. With the request, your browser sends useful information, like your computer’s IP address, so that the server can send back what you want.

5. The server responds to your request. For most websites, the server does some internal processing on the information from your request, so that it knows what data to send back to you. Server side processing, like all of the topics I am introducing here, is a huge topic that I can’t even begin to do justice to here. Some of the things it might involve are:

  • Finding, adding, updating, or removing information in a database
  • Complicated math to make sure your data is secure from hacking
  • Piecing together information and code and turning it into the response it will send to your browser

All of this is like what is going on in the kitchen and even in the business office of the Chinese Restaurant. They buy food, they prepare it, they cook it, they do all kinds of steps necessary to making your dish that you don’t have to worry about. Servers are like that too, only even less visible.

6. Your browser interprets the response from the server and renders a beautiful webpage for you to view and interact with. The response it gets is usually in the form of a page of HyperText Markup Language (HTML) with some other files that help make it beautiful and useful. These often include Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), Javascript files, and resources such as images or videos which populate the page. The browser knows the rules to put all of these files and resources together, and it follows them, like you putting the sauces and toppings on your food just how you like it.

Then you eat! Of course, unlike at the food court, you probably want to visit lots of sites and many different pages on each one – like ordering six items at nine restaurants at an enormous food court with millions of options.

The basics are still the same – when you click a link, your browser sends a request to the server. If it already knows where the server is, it doesn’t need the whole lookup process, but links to other sites do. When you fill out a form online, your browser turns it into a different kind of request for the server (POST instead of GET), but the general steps of the process are the same.

Sometimes, the server will send along extra data, so that when you click a button or through a slideshow, your browser already has what it needs, and doesn’t need to request anything more from the server. This is particularly true for games and videos, where a large file will load with a single request.

What’s best, your browser handles all this for you! And you didn’t have to cook.

Chinese-style fish

Just like this fish. Don’t worry about it.

So that’s how it works! Of course, there are lots more details to learn if you want to really get it. It took actually building and getting a website hosted for me to understand what I do understand about the internet. If for you it means sitting down and writing some code, I highly encourage it! If it means reading more blogs and articles, that’s good too.

I introduced this post by talking about curiosity, and how we ought to be curious about the world we interact with. Here’s a much better post about curiosity over on LessWrong, which, if you haven’t stumbled on before, is a great site for learning and being smarter.

Curiosity is better than solemnly valuing The Truth. Hopefully I have, through my wonderful analogy, made the inner workings of the Internet a little bit less intimidating, so your curiosity can carry you the rest of the way. I could point you to some links, but, wouldn’t it be better if you explored on your own?

Go forth!

Understand ALL The Things

Triple Cross Upside Down Post Part 3

Hi Readers! This is the third and last of the triple post thingies – I hope you enjoyed seeing some different perspectives! This one is from Tish (beyond the tour). Check out Part 1 by Jenn and Part 2 by me also! And if you’ve got the time, click on over to the links in my sidebar, and show some love to the other blog class bloggers, they’re great people and writers!

 

From High School to College: A New Kind of Learning

Tish – beyond the tour

From my experience and the experiences of my friends,  students tend to struggle with learning in college for different reasons.  I have seen students come from high schools where they were the class Valedictorian and once they come into college they struggle to find their niche and excel at the same level. These struggles seem to stem from the following factors:

1.   The Level of Difficulty of their High School

2.   Inability to adjust to different teaching methods

3.   Time management

While these are only three of the possible problems, the overall theme is that with each grade sequence in one’s life (elementary, middle, high school, college), you need to make an appropriate adjustment to understand how to learn at that level.

Each grade level in elementary and secondary school increases in difficulty but the there is a drastic shift from high school to college.  Once you enter college you no longer have the confines of your home to protect you, your parents, or anyone else to influence you.

The Level of Difficulty of their High School

It is a known fact that there are differences in teaching methods between high schools across America. Some schools offer AP and IB classes while others do not. Some schools use a 4.0 grading scale while others use a 5.0 or even a point system out of 1000. Some schools have Rhodes scholars and Ivy League graduates teaching students while others have volunteers.

With so much variation in high schools it can be expected that students will be coming in with different levels and experience learning. This is why colleges typically require that students submit a “Secondary School Report” which details every aspect of their school. Admissions Representatives will then compare the student to their high school. Depending on a school, a particular student could have been in the top of their class at a not so competitive high school, come to college and not do as well since their school did not adequately prepare them.

Inability to Adjust to Different Teaching Methods

As stated in the previous section, many students struggle learning in college due to the level of difficulty of their high school. This struggle continues when students are forced to adhere to different teaching styles. In high school, many teachers will spoon feed their students the information they teach in order to make things easier for them.  In high school there are make up exams, your teachers will contact you if you’re failing a test, and they generally hold your hand through everything.

 Once you enter college, you are faced with different professors who each have varying ways of teaching. Some professors teach solely out of a textbook [which means going to class isn’t necessary]. Some professors talk the entire time during a lecture without stopping for questions.  Some professors will teach one concept in class and put a different concept on the exam which creates confusion for students.

Each professor you encounter in college has a different teaching method which can make learning a bit difficult. With that in mind, students [particularly freshmen] struggle with figuring out how their professor teaches and how they can utilize their teaching method to learn accordingly.

 In order to overcome this, students should meet with their professors and teaching assistants in order to get to know them on a personal level and learn their teaching style.

Time Management

Out of all the reasons why students struggle with learning in college, time management is the most important.  When students enter college they are given a new sense of freedom: they are no longer confined to their homes, no parents, no supervision, new friends, and endless experiences.

With that being said, some students struggle to balance their new found social life, sleeping, and studying.  Deadlines start to creep up on them and, as the picture to the left illustrates, there is pressure to keep up with extracurriculars, family, work etc. in order to be a “successful student”.

In order to overcome these problems, time management is VERY important. The University of Maryland for example gives students agenda books once they move onto campus. This allows students to write down dates and deadlines and help them manage their school and study time. Along with the agenda book, UMD offers learning assistance services to help students work on basic study skills, techniques, and ways they can effectively manage their time.

 

Overall, each student learns at a different level and pace. It is imperative that as students enter college, they are aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and the fact that college is an entirely new chapter of their life that they must plan for accordingly.

 


Thanks for the great posts, Tish and Jenn! Readers, let me know if you want to do some kind of post-sharing stuff; I think I like it!

Triple Cross Upside Down Post Part 2

Part 2 of the Triple Post – read more here! This chunk is all me, so it might sound familiar. Don’t forget to check out Jenn and Tish!

 

Learning in College

Rob Cobb – KeeponLearning

Feminist theory, public health, statistics, real estate, cooking, current affairs – I have learned lots of things in my time in college. But, although the university offers classes in each of these domains, all I know about these diverse subjects I learned outside of the lecture hall.

I have blogged before about learning outside the normal systems of education – if I were to sum up the point of the blog, it might be ‘a how-to guide for learning in and out of the classroom’. Today I want to take time to focus on the curricular and extracurricular learning that happens in places of “higher learning.”

I have learned in my classes – mostly the learning takes place as I am doing the reading and homework, but sometimes the lectures are good and I learn there too. Nevertheless, in terms of raw learning, the formation of my identity and development of skills and acquisition of knowledge – I have done more of that outside of my classes than in them.

Granted, I have taken advantage of a great number of opportunities for extracurricular development – I studied abroad, I write for the school paper, I volunteer at a crisis hotline and a youth leadership program, I was in an entrepreneurship living and learning program as well as a multidisciplinary program focused on project-based learning, systems, and quality. I also work at a technology summer camp and bought and rented out my house.

Naturally, I have learned in all of those experiences, and it shouldn’t be too surprising that who I am and what I know comes more from those things than it does from listening to professors talk. Colleges are aware that learning about the world goes on outside the classes we take – faculty and administrators do their darndest to get us to do things – internships, contests, research – that enrich our learning.

Despite all that effort, college remains poorly designed for the curious! It is designed for specialization, but hacks like Gen Ed requirements and extracurriculars do not make higher ed good for those who want to generalize. The fourteen or fifteen week course is not my idea of an introduction to a subject, thank you very much, and there is a limit of ~10 or so classes you can take outside your major. (If you are very clever, you can do what Jenn and I did and make your own major out of the courses you want, but even that limits you to 40 or 50 courses total, which isn’t enough for me, at least!).

I am interested in diverse subjects, and want to learn about them. While I believe that I ought to know some subjects in depth, I do not have the chance to do minor exploration with the plentiful experts that surround me. That stinks! Instead, I have to learn about these cool things from wikipedia and talking with my friends. Not that those aren’t great things to do, but why is college designed so that engineers never speak with public health professors who in turn never see business professors who never interact with art students?

Interacting with just one type of professor and one type of student is boring.

Why not have a week or two a year for each professor to give open lectures on their subject? Why not offer short courses that allow for shallower but broader learning, fostering interaction across disciplines?

If we look for an answer, it’s probably not going to make anyone happy. No one in the administration seriously gives thought to changing the way our semester works, or ‘fostering interaction across disciplines.’ Our bureaucracy is too tightly bound to the 14- or 15-week semester and making things run smoothly the way they always have to experiment with different types of teaching and learning.

At least officially. I know from taking classes in many departments that outside perspectives are valued in the classroom. I know from meeting students and professors of many disciplines that each discipline is, without exception, highly interesting, and filled with exciting and interesting people doing great work. While I can’t yet say that the way courses are arranged and administered makes any sense, colleges are still hubs where the smart and the brilliant congregate.

If you can figure out how to talk to lots of those smart people, you might just become smart yourself! Until then, keep using the internet for getting smart. I’ll leave you with a powerful mental tool that I had to pick up outside the classroom, because there are no classes on useful mental tricks.

Fermi estimation lets you make good guesses and back of the envelope type calculations. It’s most useful if you practice with it, so first link is a more detailed explanation of what and why, and the second is a link for practicing!

 

About Fermi Estimates: http://lesswrong.com/lw/h5e/fermi_estimates/

Practice: http://www.fermiquestions.com/

 

Triple-Cross Upside Down Post Part 1

Hi!

So for class, Jenn(medievaltourist) and Tish(beyondthetour) and I are each writing a post around a shared theme (learning in college) and posting to each other’s blogs! How cool is that?!

I’ll post Jenn’s today and mine later today and Tish’s even later today, or maybe spread them out over today and tomorrow and saturday, depending on how I’m feeling. Check out their cool blogs in the meantime!

On being a Medieval Studies Major:

(Jenn, aka medievaltourist)

As I mention on my About page, I created my Medieval Studies major through the Individual Studies Program (IVSP) at UMDCP. Now, while being the only Medieval Studies at a university of 26.708 full-time undergraduate students is pretty awesome (if I do say so myself), it doesn’t come without its challenges.

Let me start from the beginning.

For anyone to create a major at UMD, they have to come to the IVSP office with some idea. In other words, no, you can’t major in Underwater Basket Weaving (unless, of course, the appropriate classes are offered). From there, you start building your major: you have to decide what kinds of classes you want to take and be able to justify why they are necessary for the major, you have to define your major, you have to think of a Capstone project, etc. etc. After all that, you propose your major to a board and it’s up to them whether you get to declare a major in the degree you built.

My point? You have to be really dedicated to your idea. Of course, if you’re going to IVSP to create a major, then I think it’s pretty safe to say that you’ve made the commitment.

If the board approves your major, you’re set and take the courses you prescribed for your major. For the most part, the majors consist of pretty standard courses in various departments. Mine isn’t an exception. My Medieval Studies major consists of the following concentrations:

  • History

  • Society & Culture

  • Religion & the Foundation of Church Latin

  • Modern Language Study

Now these seem like pretty straightforward concentrations, right? They are for the most part (i.e. anything related to language and basic history), but medieval stuff isn’t really popular at UMD, which means that courses frequently are not offered or get cancelled. This means I sometimes have to get creative with replacing classes. Other times I just have to pray really hard that it works out (like I did for next semester, and, lo and behold, it worked out!).

Despite the difficulties of being the only Medieval Studies major, it’s such a rewarding experience. I get so much great feedback and encouragement from professors and other students, and whenever I get to talk about my major I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Not to mention that taking the initiative to build your own major looks pretty great on your CV.

I do have a confession to make, though: I am extremely possessive of my major. I want nothing more than to have a fellow baby-medievalist follow in my footsteps and create a Medieval Studies major, but I cannot stand it when just plain History students claim to be Medieval Studies majors. Just no.

This normally happens at the beginning of the semester when we go around the class and introduce ourselves to our professor and fellow classmates by stating our names, majors, and interesting facts. I feel so accomplished when I introduce myself as a Medieval Studies major. But for some reason there are always a few History students doing concentrations in the Middle Ages who feel that it’s OK for them to copy me and say they’re Medieval Studies majors, too. This usually results in me giving them a half glare that tries to tell them You know nothing.

I think a Game of Thrones reference is pretty appropriate, don’t you? [Via]

So, my tactic has changed, and instead of making my interesting fact that I grew up in a foreign country or have studied seven languages or that I can touch my nose with my tongue, my interesting fact now is that I am the only Medieval Studies major in the history of the University of Maryland. BAM.

lol1387386608503.jpg

[HT to Learning Learning [ed: That’s me!] for finding this gem via]

[Disclaimer: Snark emphasized for dramatic effect. Author is not actually this stuck-up about her major. Usually.]

But if you get as excited as I do about something, please come talk to me about creating your own major! It’s so rewarding and a great experience. Not to mention all the other awesome people you meet along the way!



 

-Rob again –

Pretty cool stuff! I can confirm that IVSP is the way to go. Look out for more cross-posting action soon!