Better e-flashcards: Anki

Following up on my previous post about Genius, an electronic flashcard program I was thinking about using as a resource for my students in this semester’s mammalogy lab. (There’s a double benefit here — I’m no mammalogist, so I’m really creating study materials for myself, but it’s nice if I can pass them on to the students.) Anyway, I think I’ve found something better than Genius: Anki.

Anki is basically the same thing as Genius, but with cross-platform compatibility where Genius is Mac-only, and with a utility to find and upload decks of virtual flashcards from a server full of shared user-created material. So I can put the cards online, and any student who installs Anki just has to type “Mammalian” into the search function to use them.

Anki also makes use of “spaced repetition” to schedule individual cards during study sessions; it’s less clear to me how useful that will be. To plan spaced repetitions, Anki doesn’t ask you to type in answers as Genius does, but to recall an answer, reveal the correct one, and rate how easy the recall was. That seems less helpful, but we’ll see how it goes.

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I should’ve done this when I audited botany

This fall I’m going to be teaching the mammalogy lab. This is going to be something of a stretch, since I actually study plants and insects — and I’m already trying to get a grip on the material. I haven’t put in any real memorization-based studying in a long time, but I’ve got my coyote skull, and I’m going to learn the names of all the bits, dammit.

One thing that helps: Genius, a freeware flashcard-creator and study tool. I spent my first time with the skull creating a list of flashcard-type associations between the bones of the skull and their descriptions, and now the program can quiz me. Incredibly, this seems to be working: I know the zygomatic process of the maxilla from the condyloid process after just a few minutes-long sessions.

My only complaint about Genius, so far, is that it’s only for Macs, which prevents me from offering to share the flashcard files with my students.


Canis latrans skull
Photo by boneman_81.
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The math-challenged scientist’s best friend

The NY Times has a neat piece about R, an open-source statistical programming language used by scientists worldwide. I’ve used it quite a bit myself, though I’ve hardly scratched the surface of its capabilities. The graphics package alone kicks Microsoft’s arse. Thanks to its price (free), its ease of use (spectacular), and a thriving developer community, R is apparently gaining ground on the commercial competition, the clunky, overpriced SAS.

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