Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Flashcards on the iPhone

Everyone loves to play with iPhones and iPads. When you’re stuck in line or riding in a car, it’s great fun to be able to flick through images, play games, read, or watch videos.

Because of this, several communities I visit have shown an interest in making apps for smart phones that would teach endangered languages. Getting an app designed and approved isn’t always easy, though, so lately I’ve been looking for existing apps or app templates that could be used for this purpose.

This last weekend I tried out several flashcard apps for the iPhone. My first choice is managed through a web site called StudyBlue.com. You begin by going to their web site on a computer and signing up for a free account. I wanted to develop materials for Koasati, so I created a folder named "Koasati" and began a deck of flashcards named "Koasati 1". For this first deck, I wanted users to learn the names of common animals. I then went to Wikipedia and searched for images of about 16 common animals (dog, cat, bear, etc.). I saved these on my computer, and then I used each image as the front side of a flashcard. Then on the back of each card, I typed in the Koasati term for that animal.
For my next deck of flashcards, I decided to work on the numbers from 1 to 10. I opened up PowerPoint and made ten slides with a large number on each one. I then saved those slides as JPEG files and made flashcards by uploading the images.
Anyone who wants to see these decks can do so by installing the app StudyBlue on their iPhone, iPad, or Android phone. Then they need to sign up for StudyBlue and search for "Koasati". The flashcard decks can then be downloaded and studied.

Other options are available for using the same deck from the StudyBlue.com site on a computer. One useful feature is the Quiz function, which takes the information from a deck of flashcards and turns it into a multiple choice, fill in the blank, or true/false quiz.

The StudyBlue site is not without problems, though. It’s supposed to be possible to make a deck of cards with an audio recording on the front side. Instead of allowing users to upload recordings, however, the interface is designed to record words through a microphone. Despite several attempts on a Windows PC and on a Mac, I wasn’t able to get the recording function to work.

There are other sites for making flashcards. Quizlet, for example, automatically generates several games you can play based on the content in a deck of cards. Instead of allowing you to upload recordings, though, the web site designers assumed you’d be happy to have pronunciations synthesized in a handful of languages (English, Spanish, etc.). On some screens, certain Unicode characters also appeared as blocks.

A third site I tried--gFlash--creates cards from a Google spreadsheet you share with them. I wasn’t able to get the audio flashcards to work, though: the app plays the audio recording correctly, but then in my case either crashed or failed to show the back of the card.

It seems likely that we’ll see these applications develop over the next year or so. My wish list would include the ability to upload recordings for the front and/or back of a card, to generate a number of different games based on the content of a deck, to allow a title card that gives brief instructions, to be able to upload video, and to allow for multi-dimensional flash cards. StudyBlue is currently my favorite, but this is clearly a competitive area with much room for progress.