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!

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!

Learning to listen (part 1)

It’s a noisy world. Listening is hard. Listening means lots of things to lots of people, and everyone recognizes that it is pretty important. I am gonna make this a multi-part post, since there is lots to talk about. This is part 1, and I’ll link to part 2 when it goes up! (Edit: here’s part 2!)

Listening is hard and important, which makes it a good candidate for learning and practice. TED talk:

Julian Treasure does a little bit of unsubstantiated fear mongering with an undertone of luddite Gen-Y bashing, sure. BUT, he has mindfulness exercises for listening, and exercises are wonderful, so it probably balances out.

Even if we aren’t losing our listening, we don’t practice the receiving end of communication nearly as much as the broadcasting end, at least not explicitly.  Listening is a skill we ought to think about and work on.

There are lots of things we listen to. Music, the thumping about of roommates, construction noise when we try to work. All kinds of online ed materials: Podcasts, lectures, TED talks. What does it mean to be good at it? How does one become a ‘good listener’?

Just as we mean different things when we talk about listening, doing it ‘well’ has different meanings. Today, I’ll focus on choosing the things you listen to and developing interpersonal listening skills.

Listen intentionally and choose the things you listen to.

If what we learn is who we become, and we learn through our ears, we should be selective about what we listen to, and how closely we listen to it.  I listen to C-SPAN radio as I drive. If I get stuck listening to C-SPAN callersNPR is often good too. I try to process what I am hearing, especially when there is a good interview or speech. I make connections to what I already know, but also consciously note information that is new or did not fit with my previous understanding. I think of questions that I would ask to clarify or delve further into particular issues. I have gotten good at filtering subtle, meaningful insight from what is not. (I might do another post on learning to recognize and learn from experts rather than others, since most people are mostly wrong about most things.)

You don’t have to listen to C-SPAN. That might not be your scene; that’s totally cool. I am me in part because of what I listen to. Maybe you like Ted talks, maybe you just want your Beyoncé playlist. It’s all good, as long as you know that choosing is part of defining who you are. So, choose!

C-SPAN or no,   discerning bull from not-bull is an awesome skill. If you are mentally engaged with what is being said, you will notice more and, consequently, learn more. Don’t tune out talking heads as background noise like you did when you were five – some of them are actually okay. Others are crappy. Telling one from the other is hard, and takes practice, but I believe in you.

[EDIT: Forgot to mention Night Vale, which is super cool. Got any cool podcasts or things you listen to? lemmeknowinthecomments]

Listen to those around you

Another habit or set of habits has to do with interpersonal listening – one on one and in groups, where your role is both listener and speaker. I’ve had the amazing chance to learn a bunch of good listening skills as a counselor at the Help Center, UMD’s peer counseling and crisis intervention hotline. Still, it takes effort and concentration to actually listen to friends and siblings, especially when I have opinions on the subject under discussion.

Some things to focus on:

  • Actually hear the words they are saying. Seems obvious, but there are times when a few words go unheard and we shrug it off, since we got the gist. Instead,
  • Ask clarifying questions. Even if it is “can you say that again?,” asking for clarification works to help us understand what someone is saying.
  • Don’t judge, jump in, or interrupt. Basically, listen instead of talking. This one is especially tough for the extroverts or those with strong opinions. I’m still no pro at this in some settings, but I’ve found that focusing on how much I should be speaking as a fraction of the number of people in a conversation helps. If I am one of three people, I should have one third of the speaking, or thereabouts. If I am one of twenty, a twentieth, and so on. Of course it is a guideline and there are exceptions, but it helps me shut up more.
  • Use nonverbal or monosyllabic cues. Nodding, saying ‘mhm,’ eye contact, generally using active listening skills. It can feel silly to overdo it, but it’s harder than you would think.
  • Summarize and reflect your understanding of what they said. Don’t worry about sounding dumb. If you don’t understand, it doesn’t mean you or your friend are bad people – communicating well is really hard!

Actually, wikihow has a wonderful post about listening well, with illustrations and generally more time and thought put in than I have. It’s worth actually reading.

Like most actual skills, listening takes time and practice for the benefits to show. It’s worth it. Your relationships get better, you retain more information, and the world sounds better. Pretty neat!

Music for now:

Note: Part 1 was about deciding your listening environment and tips for interpersonal listening. Part 2  includes thoughts about inferential distance and the difficulty of communicating, plus the concept of listening to stakeholder groups as a society, plus classrooms and listening to students. 

Learning language

7 billion people in the world, uncounted words to read and listen to. Lots of the words are English – far more than I could hope to slurp up in eighty or ninety years. Far more are in other languages. I’ll return in later posts [EDIT: Hold me to that, please] to the question of which words to pay attention to. The Big Selection Problem, content overload, is one of the more compelling questions for curious minds, ever more so with our increasing access to stories and studies and blogs like mine.

Today is about learning languages. Speaking multiple languages is one way to be smarter – this NYT article says it fights Alzheimer’s and improves children’s ability to sort colored shapes. Cool.

Even if you aren’t a professional block sorter, the research seems to show your brain grows more robust when you learn to switch between different languages. On top of that, multiple language proficiency has become a big ol’ status indicator with real career implications. Plus it is fun and cool. Travel and stuff. Seems like the reasons in favor are overwhelming. 

But it’s hard! It takes time you don’t have, energy you can’t afford, and who’s to say if you could even do it, even if you decided that you wanted to? And don’t you lose the ability to learn language once you get old and start reading blogs?

I took Spanish in high school and did okay. I wanted to keep going with it, but didn’t have people to practice with or any particular goal in mind in terms of fluency. When I went to Norway last year (spring semester ’13), I picked up enough to follow a few conversations, but not hold one myself. I felt bad, but everyone spoke much better English than I spoke Norwegian, and it seemed much more important at the time that we communicate than that I painfully practice my pitiful language skills. In retrospect, it was a huge missed opportunity! Although, if I had my choice, maybe I would pick a language with more than 5 million speakers…

Thankfully, technology.

I started with Duolingo about a month ago, and I’m at level 6 in German. Where that actually places me in my learning, I don’t know – I know a couple hundred words, probably. Still, it’s free and fun and simple and it only takes ten minutes a day, and I have learned words that I certainly did not know before. Learning a whole language will still require tons of time and effort, but it somehow feels manageable – it’s just a quick lesson. Just a bite-sized chunk of time. I can handle that. I can make that a habit. It helps that I have friends registered too, so I can compete with them and reinforce my learning socially.

This will be a recurring theme. Technology makes it easier to put massive hours into learning. Whether it is e-readers or apps or that thing that blocks facebook for you, it’s all getting easier and closer. It’s okay to feel intimidated, right?

I can’t tell yet if I will learn a whole language for free online, but I feel more excited than scared about it.  Language learning seems like a thing that the internet should be able to do. Das Internet ist gut. Lernen ist gut. Zusammen sind sie wunderbar!

Auf Wiedersehen!

P.S. Let me know how you like your posts – quick and topical, like this one was (sort of), or meandering and journally? I am definitely planning on including  tools like Duolingo that you might not have known, which are making the world a more fun place to learn. Let me know what you think! It’s your blog too!