Learning By Sharing

When I was in Norway last spring (2013), I kept in touch with people back home a few ways. One was through a blog I regularly occasionally rarely updated. Another was through a writing group that my friends and I put together to share our fiction, poetry, and essays. ‘Write More, Write Better’ was more fun than the blog – reading the excellent stories my friends wrote, I was inspired to write my own. Where the blog felt like an obligation, the writing group was an opportunity to create and share.

While I was abroad, I also started sharing my writing in print: I started writing for the Diamondback (The University of Maryland’s Independent Student Newspaper).  I have shared my opinion in a column every two weeks since then, except summer and winter breaks. This past friday, I wrote about the frustration of writing dumb, context-less papers that are only read by professors and thrown away.

Trash bin

I keep my old papers in a circular file.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that it is a product of blog class. Blog class is a great example of sharing-driven education. Other classes have student blogs or course blogs, and some classes publish student writing in other media. As I argue in the article, the sharing is limited to far too few classes. If no one will ever see my paper, and the assignment is not inherently captivating, I will not care enough to spend time making it good. After the fact, there is little opportunity for feedback and iteration or improvement. All in all, the current system is bad, and the massively better replacement is obvious and easy.

Share the work online.

THIS IS A NO-BRAINER.

It's a no brainer!

The image search results for ‘no brainer’ were too good to choose only one.

Sharing is good. 

From my experience, sharing writing makes writing better. I am much better at writing than I was a year ago – faster, clearer, and more concise. You can tell, if you look at my articles and blog! It has not been a constant improvement, but a general trend upward.

I attribute a good deal of the improvement to the feedback I get. When people see an article they like, they tell me. If they disagree, they tell me that too. If the point I tried to make was unclear, I get to revisit the point and try to clarify it, and I learn to be more straightforward in the future. You may have had friends edit your paper before, you know how useful genuine feedback can be. Imagine if you got feedback like that on all of your writing, and on the trends in your writing over time – how very useful it would be!

Sharing is good in other ways too.

They know all about sharing. And caring.

Writing for a real audience makes the writing real – I am not just writing this post to get a grade, I actually want to convince you of my point! Not only can genuine context improve your writing and your motivation to write, it can actually make a real difference! Reading what my friends write actually shapes my views – how about that!

Go, start blogs, share on email or facebook, share, share, SHARE!

Sharing isn’t easy, especially if you do not get lots of hits or feedback at first. If you keep bothering your friends about it, eventually you’re likely to write about something interesting to someone, and the conversation will begin. I have been using bitly to shorten links; it automatically and conveniently tracks clicks from different sources, giving you a sense of how wide your message is spreading.

So, maybe you are sold on the whole sharing thing, at least for writing, at least when you have time. If not, let me know, and I can badger you with more reasons why it is good. The internet provides lots of good ways to start sharing some things: text, images, video, web projects. In case you haven’t heard, or never thought of sharing, WordPress, Flickr, and Youtube make it painless to broadcast content. Email, Facebook, and Twitter are also cool, but y’all probably know about all that. I am a fan of Google Drive for document sharing and collaboration, but I know those who use and love Dropbox and Box for file sharing, and you can do the Microsoft or Apple thing too, I guess. Git is unbeatable for code projects, but it is super cool for text that many people might edit together.

Basically, the internet makes sharing super-easy.

Really easy.

What about all the things we learn that don’t fit as nicely on the internet? Can you share what you learn in Business Law or Introduction to Logic? What about the hovercraft or bridges you build in first year engineering? Are people really going to read your undergraduate research blog?

My answer is yes, they will read it, find a way to document what you are doing, and share it. If that means writing paragraphs about basic business law scenarios or little logic problems, so be it. If you need to take pictures of a project, do that. If instead of the internet, you share through conversations with your friends or family – that’s great too, as long as you share. If you are sharing, you will learn.

Even better than just sharing, you can encourage your friends to share, provide feedback, and help create a sharing community. We aren’t learning alone, no matter how the assignments are designed or graded. Months ago, I wrote a different column about the other side of sharing – Why You Should Read Your Friend’s Stupid Blog.

It’s important!

I can’t possibly take all the classes that everyone else takes – if I want to be all smart-like, I gotta talk to people about those classes! If you want to be all smart-like too, you’ve got to share and participate in the give and take.

Of course, I would be hypocritical if I didn’t take some steps to do better sharing of my own. In order to make it easy for you to view alllll my writing, I made a new page for it – Other Stuff I Wrote. Check it out if you like!

If you have things to share, by all means, include me. I am sometimes good about giving feedback, especially if you ask me directly. The key is not going to be sharing your work in my comment thread though – it’ll be starting your own blog and sharing there.

Now get out and Share!

Share All The Things!

 

[Brief Lumosity and Duolingo update: I have been cruising along pretty well on Lumosity, but I have not been very active on Duolingo. According to the Lumosity people, my brain is growing, which is cool – I have yet to notice myself remembering things that I would otherwise forget, but I don’t know when that is supposed to happen. My German has stalled, but hopefully I will plunge back into it once the semester is over… Has anyone gone over and tried either of these sites? Any other interesting daily-training-type sites that I should look into?]

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!