Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

In response to comment by tut on LW 2.0 Open Beta Live
Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 25 September 2017 01:23:22AM *  11 points [-]

I can corroborate that the scrolling is painful on sufficiently old hardware (and two of the not-home not-work places I most like to hang out in these days have hardware that is sufficiently old).

Scrolling for example is painful near the bottom (in the comments) of the recent article on the Cambrian explosion on a Core 2 Duo running Windows Vista, in Chrome. In particular, it takes whole seconds for the text to appear. (Till then the view port is blank / white.)

But even when I'm using reasonably fast hardware, my reaction to any signs that the text on a web page is not being produced "the old fashioned way" (and the new site certainly has such signs) is to ask myself if I really need to continue using the site.

Even a site's use of a font I don't recognize I provokes that reaction in me.

Why? Well, it is a sign that I will run into further irritants. Some actions will work slightly differently from the way I am used to with the result that I have to stop concentrating on the reason I came onto the web site to figure out scrolling or searching in the page or making sure the right pane on the screen has "keyboard focus" or how to change the size of the text. Or I will have to figure out how to undo the effects of some action I took accidentally.

If you're reading this and cannot relate, then maybe that is because I have cataracts, so a large text size is more important to me than it is to you. Or maybe it is because I have a 57-year-old brain and some chronic health issues so that it is harder for me to retain what is in my working memory when things jump around on a page in ways that my brain cannot predict.

Or maybe it is because I prefer the kinesthetic sensory modality which makes me care more about subtleties in the computer's response to various "attempted manipulations" (e.g., attempting to scroll or to use the pointing device to select an extent of text) of the web page.

The new LW site is not doing anything that many many other web sites are not also doing, so this is a comment about modern web sites more than it is a comment about the new version of LW.

I realize that this comment is rough on the creators of the next version of LW since it is negative feedback, but not actionable negative feedback (since they've already implemented a particular design). I considered refraining from publishing it, but went ahead because writing this comment, then observing how many points it ends up with is by far the easiest way for me to find out how many LWers share my frustrations (and knowing that is even more useful to me than knowing how many in the general population of internet users share my frustrations). I won't make a habit of complaining about it.

Comment author: tanagrabeast 26 September 2017 05:52:57AM *  3 points [-]

Even a site's use of a font I don't recognize I provokes that reaction in me.

Speaking of font difficulty, the new font doesn't render well on my desktop (Windows 10, Chrome, default font/size, 1680x1050). It comes out looking poorly aliased, or maybe just not fully black. I compare to another serif-heavy site like nytimes and the latter just seems so much darker and crisper, even at similar sizes.

On my older MacBook Air the LW font is not as ugly, though it still seems less than fully black.

Comment author: Lumifer 05 May 2016 02:37:47AM 0 points [-]

How old are your students?

Comment author: tanagrabeast 05 May 2016 02:41:31AM 0 points [-]

14-16, usually. These are 9th and 10th graders, with a few repeating upperclassmen.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 May 2016 03:17:37PM 1 point [-]

Practical example: Which of the following is [xyz]? [A] [B] [C] [D]

I did made hundreds of Anki cards on that basis with 2 to 3 answers and my conclusion is that it's a bad idea. Given "what fires together wires together" cards like that seem to create links between the question and the wrong answers.

For example, if we have x number of cards in a typical deck, can we grade the usefulness of each card?

The typical deck is going to be different for different people.

Comment author: tanagrabeast 05 May 2016 02:05:30AM 1 point [-]

I did made hundreds of Anki cards on that basis with 2 to 3 answers and my conclusion is that it's a bad idea. Given "what fires together wires together" cards like that seem to create links between the question and the wrong answers.

There's also a risk that you become dependent on being able to look for the answer visually rather than being able to fish it out of year head; in most real-world cases, it's the latter skill you need.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 May 2016 08:13:20AM 2 points [-]

Have you considered sharing some version of this essay with your students? I think one of the bad things about conventional schooling (generalizing from myself) is getting the impression that the whole thing just happens, rather than that there's adult thought going into how teaching is done.

In re reading for pleasure: even if it isn't something you're teaching, at least you aren't spoiling it for your students.

I'm looking forward to your next installment.

Comment author: tanagrabeast 05 May 2016 02:01:58AM 2 points [-]

Have you considered sharing some version of this essay with your students?

This question makes me squirm a bit, which makes me think it might be important.

I do discuss the rationale behind my course design choices with students, in some limited domains. I should have mentioned in this report that I've tweaked my intro-to-SRS presentation I gave at the start of last year; I now bill it as a kind of superpower, and we have some cards in our deck about the principles of it -- cards that still get some play even this late in the year. I hope this may create more of those "sleeper agents" I speculated about, who may bloom into power-learners down the road.

I also make sure my students understand how valuable I think pleasure reading is, with a different presentation that spruces up the more interesting findings from that report I linked to. And I put my money where my mouth is by making sure they understand how very unlikely I am to give them a hard time for reading during my class, even if it's not exactly what they're supposed to be doing.

I even try to let them know why each unit is in our curriculum, whether it's "because the boss/district/state says so, but we'll try to make it fun" or "because I want to help you get into college and I know this will help".

But a lot of my thinking I don't share. I understand some of my reticence: there are things I do that wouldn't work as well if they knew I was doing them, and there are other things that would be exploitable if I laid out the strategies behind them. I'm struggling to articulate the rest of my hesitation, though.

Like the stuff about apathy and caring. I had some experimental lessons dealing with this sort of thing about 7 years ago when I taught a course with a broader curriculum mandate. I don't feel like these lessons got a lot of traction, though, in the same way that other "life skills" lessons tend to fall flat with typical teens. This age group is so slippery... so reluctant to accept advice where others would see it, so wary of anything that smells of paternalism.

My instincts now tell me to approach these things obliquely, as though I'm accidentally letting out the secrets I know they're too immature to make use of. I'm not telling them what they should do. I'm talking about how the rash actions of young characters in our stories make sense because said characters don't understand how adolescent brains are wired for overconfidence and short tempers. I'm making a seemingly off-hand comment about the rare superpower of "taking advice". I'm giving an off-script response to a question about my past with an answer about that time I totally kicked butt by putting in extra hours of effort, as though this were a cheat giving me a secret edge.

I remember being a teen and thinking much more deeply about the things adults seemed to let slip than about their prepared remarks. It hadn't occurred to me until now that some of those slips might have been carefully scripted.

Comment author: moridinamael 02 May 2016 04:53:25PM *  3 points [-]

Along these lines, I have embraced the power of Cloze deletion. I have no problem with keeping all of the following cards in rotation:

The [...] is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a [...] in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which [...] suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons [...].

Even if I don't actually care about memorizing the wording verbatim, breaking the information up this way forces me to learn the information in a sort of "anisotropic" fashion.

edit: Also, yes, at least two of these cards would be dead-easy, practically already known before I saw them even once, but seeing the information "too much" at the start can help push you over the initial hump.

Comment author: tanagrabeast 03 May 2016 12:31:22AM 0 points [-]

It should be noted that how the cloze cards play out changes greatly depending on whether you allow different cards of the same note to show up on the same day. One version gives you that early overload effect, while the other gives a kind of extended familiarity effect where for months you'll probably have at least one variation of that cloze come up every day or two. The more variations on a note, the longer this stretches out.

The problem in Anki, at least, is that this is a global deck setting ("Bury related reviews until the next day") and not one you can customize for individual notes. Maybe I should start organizing decks by desired automaticity levels rather than by content.

Comment author: Arshuni 02 May 2016 04:43:26PM *  2 points [-]

Tangentially related: I have found the ease of creating cards one of the most important factors determining the speed at which I learn. For example in anatomy, I started with making cards from a photographic atlas, but this took way too long. (I still desire to make cards from them, since they use actual photos, not simple schematics). For the later, I had to manually cut out the images, and extract the labeling. In contrast, what I ended up using was Gray's Anatomy for Students Flash Cards. It's a 817 page book, with most of it in being alternating pages of images and corresponding names.

This was much easier to make (digital) flash cards from. With pdftk, I could separate the pages into a file of all images and a file of all assorted labels. With pdftotext I could easiliy convert the pdf of labels into text (which I could simply, ~automatically form into flash cards) while I used imagemagick to extract the images themselves. (with all the borders, etc, cut off.) (while I have done a part of the conversion process manually (some names were split into multiple lines, and there were minor irregularities in the text format of the file, so I manually made each section into a separate flashcard (Inserting headers of a card, deleting newline characters if splitting an item into two, and marking the beginnings and endings of clozes), but I am certain that that could've been easily automated, with a proper understanding of regexps. (learning which would've been more economical on my time)). With all this, it took me 13 days until I had first exposure to all 3630 cards, probably significantly less, than if I had to do everything manually.

So, whenever you can, automatize.

(Before this, I used to extract glossaries of books manually. Obviously, I use the same tools for that too, now.)

I learned to love books which had great glossaries, and great summaries. Some are so great, that by reading the summaries, you don't even have to read the actual chapters. (Which may be artificially inflated in length because of a length goal the publishers set, or because it is more targeted towards entertainment value, than for quick conveying of the ideas behind them. A quick skimming may still be worth it, though, even if in preceding chapters you established that their compression is pretty lossless.) Only tables are better.

One thing I want to add to my current toolset is a way to automatically extract wiktionary definitions: sometimes the whole idea is in there, but either way, speaking the language of your desired subject by the time you encounter the more in depth books is handy. (this, coupled with a trickle system, AKA (~20) word(s) of the day)

I used to try to avoid duplicate cards, but I learned to love redundancy.

Also, mind sharing your cards for the holonyms?

Comment author: tanagrabeast 03 May 2016 12:18:44AM *  2 points [-]

You know, I had a start-up idea along these lines recently: something that would combine SRS with social bookmarking.

Example: I'm slowly-but-steadily working my way through Learn You a Haskell for Great Good. I have it on good authority that few people make it as far as I have. I feel like the only reason I can do it is because I stop to make cards for terms, concepts, and many of the examples. I take days or weeks away from the book between sessions while I let those facts firm up in my head, and then I resume.

While I hold that there is real value to making cards yourself when this involves putting things into your own words, making a high-quality card is also a time-consuming chore that is just as much about formatting. I've often wished, as I read, that I had a browser extension that would let me pluck pre-made cards out of a side-bar that went with the passage I was reading -- cards by one of the thousands of people that have no doubt come before me in that chapter.

You can see how this might work. People could build karma when others copy their cards. Site creators might create their own cards as a way to help readers and boost traffic, or pay bounties of some kind to others who make them.

You could browse other cards by the writers of cards you've cloned, and all cards would have automatic links to the sites they go with -- getting around a big problem with imported cards, which is that they are shorn from their creation context.

Monetization? Maybe ads in the corner of the side-bar or something. Maybe partnerships with popular for-pay learning sites.

There are no doubt some thorny copyright issues at play though, and the overall potential market is probably pretty small.

Comment author: Elo 02 May 2016 07:00:01AM 0 points [-]

What I am suggesting is that in "knowing one card", they have thoroughly decided to commit to knowing the password in this one field. They are essentially checking out from doing anything other than reciting the surface concept back at you. potentially finding a way to cheat their way to the applause lights.

I wonder if it would be possible to trick them into changing the goal from "correctly recite this password" to, "get every password right".

The exact link escapes me but someone suggested a concept that is useful to think about is, "The Desire To Pass Tests", which if your student has, can be all it takes to succeed. What do you think of TDTPT?

Comment author: tanagrabeast 02 May 2016 11:47:14PM *  2 points [-]

I think all of these strategies give the type of student I'm talking about too much credit, as they are mostly emotional creatures not prone to strategic planning. I guess TDTPT comes closest, but I would change it to a phrase I use with my students: "It's fun to be right." IFTBR.

Easy trivia apps were all the rage among my students a couple years ago. Nobody was trying to get a high score or trying to advance to the next level, but if you put a question in front of someone that they think they know the answer to, the urge to get validation for knowing it is irresistible. You've probably seen ads on the internet that work on this principle.

It's why Who Wants to Be a Millionaire always started off with insultingly easy questions, and why easy cards in the class Anki deck are so important for raising participation and morale.

Comment author: Vaniver 02 May 2016 05:56:43PM 0 points [-]

I don't give it mostly because few of my students would do it; they are not strongly motivated by grades.

Hm. I was about to suggest that the natural way to get daily Anki compliance is to have that be homework--it should be easy for students to send you some record / to find or build a webapp where you can see whether or not students are reviewing their cards.

(This runs into trouble with digital access; students may have a hard time getting on the Internet on Saturdays or Sundays. But for many schools this isn't a problem.)

Comment author: tanagrabeast 02 May 2016 11:32:43PM *  1 point [-]

Monitoring features are definitely a part of the vision I'll be laying out in the next post, but more as a way to make classroom time more productive than as a homework enforcement aid. To get them to use something on their own time I'm going to have to be more clever, and make them feel like it was their idea.

Comment author: richard_reitz 02 May 2016 05:38:30AM 0 points [-]

my classes continue to perform with increasingly minimal note-taking and homework.

Which homework hasn't been assigned because of Anki? Remembering back to my high school English classes, the only homework I can remember doing was reading readings and writing essays. I can't see how either could be displaced by Anki.

Comment author: tanagrabeast 02 May 2016 05:51:51AM *  1 point [-]

I've cut back on note-taking quite a bit thanks to Anki. They weren't looking up those notes anyway. If they want them bad enough they can look them up on my web page or go straight to the Anki cards.

Anki hasn't displaced much homework, though, as there wasn't much left to displace. I don't give it mostly because few of my students would do it; they are not strongly motivated by grades. This is especially true of reading homework; I gave up on that a year after I stopped teaching honors after getting about 10% compliance. Reading happens in class or not at all, and yes, it is a big challenge to squeeze this in and still do all of the other things we need to do. It's important, though. For most of my students, the reading we do together is the only reading-at-length they do all year. They admit this readily -- even proudly.

Essays are more mixed. We don't do too many full ones, and the ones we do mostly get done in class. The "homework" is there just as safety valve for those who care enough to make their essay great.

Comment author: Elo 02 May 2016 02:55:28AM *  2 points [-]

This is an excellent review. Thank you; please keep writing!

A few aspects of behaviours you have described seem to be the behaviour of students trying to guess the teachers passwords, and shortcut the learning process.

Things like:

  • chihuahuas, where a number of students have a reputation for “owning” particular cards
  • many students see Anki only as a way to get validation for ideas they remember
  • Students strong in cards with a common theme tend to take more interest in other similar cards. They become Grammar Dude. Little Miss Word Fragment. Chief Petty Officer of Words-That-Sound-Vaguely-Like-Genitals.

Does this seem like an accurate insight into their behaviour to you?

Comment author: tanagrabeast 02 May 2016 03:44:48AM 2 points [-]

Good question, but no, I wouldn't say these students are trying to guess the password. The cards they're remembering aren't complex enough to qualify. The answer is the answer, not a surface representation of some deeper knowledge they're skipping.

This feels more like a case of selective attention, of perking up and caring more about cards they see as "in their wheelhouse". It's an easy way of being better than everyone else at something, even if that something is pretty narrow. If you've ever done any cooperative social gaming, you can probably recall analogous situations where new players spontaneously start seeing themselves as specialists with some power-up, weapon, player class, etc. It's a land grab for the ego, and mostly just harmless fun.

Remembering passwords takes effort; a mystical incantation is harder to memorize than an answer you can logically derive from deeper knowledge. Hence, password guessing is something I mostly see in students who are grade obsessed, and I don't get too many of those.

View more: Next