Apiary is a web app that teaches proper study methods to middle-school students. Named after collections of beehives, Apiary is a hub of study activity. The app contains both lessons about study methods and acts as a study center. where students can see their test calendar, their classes, take notes, and create flashcards online. The research and development of Apiary is centered around the learning process.
Introduction to study methods, outlining the 3 components to a successful study toolkit. Questions like “Can’t I just read over my notes?” allow users to realize their prior conceptions of what “studying” means, allowing them to adjust their studying schema to include new information.
Apiary’s lessons teach study skills through a series of readings, evaluations and activities. The lessons cover study methods (recognition, reorganization, repetition), scheduling, and study spaces. Once they complete the lessons, users can access the rest of the site.
Recognition includes any activity where you are reviewing, in its current state, information that you have already learned, to remind yourself about the scope of the information, review vocabulary words, terms, and concepts.
Reorganization is where you take information from your notes, textbook, and the internet and manipulate the way it is presented to connect it to other information in the section, or to information you have already learned. You can do this on paper (mapping, charting, etc.) or conceptually (storytelling, analogies).
Activity: This activity both requires the user to recall what they have just learned about reorganization, and apply it to their classes to put it into practice. It also connects this new information to the prior knowledge they have about reorganization (which they now have a name for), and allows them to elaborate on what they have learned.
Repetition is what we typically think of as studying, going over and over information until we have learned it. This can include memorizing, facts with flashcards, memorizing processes with practice problems, and memorizing lists and relationships with mnemonic devices.
Activity: This activity allows the user to put into practice what they have just learned about mnemonic devices. While they may not have understood completely from the definition, this activity allows them to see what can be accomplished with this tool (memorizing both terms and order).
Scheduling is how a student organizes their time when they study. It includes using a calendar to record how early and what to study, prioritizing classes when you have more than one task, and how to organize time within a study session to optimize brain power.
Activity: This activity allows users to bring emotion into the study process, validating what often is a driving force behind scheduling and prioritizing. Rather than thinking about what is most “important” to study, this activity allows the user to bring their personal priorities into the study process.
In this lesson, students complete an activity where they build their current study space out of graphics provided. After learning what a study space should and shouldn’t include, they can alter their creation to make it an “ideal” environment to work.
Once completing the lessons, users can exercise their skills with the site’s study tools. On the Dashboard, users can set up classes, organize their test dates, and set up a study schedule. With Toolkit, users can take notes and create flashcards for their classes, which they can refer to while studying.
After completing the lessons, Dashboard is the first screen that users will see when they log into Apiary. It presents them with their weekly schedule and their list of classes, which they can click to enter the class page. The class page organizes the notes and flashcard decks created for that class.
The monthly calendar allows users to see the events that they have input for the month.
Toolkit: Notes and Flashcards
With the word processor and flashcard maker, the user creates notes and flashcards for a particular class. They can then access these study tools on the class page.
I conducted research with a central focus on how people learn, and how to improve teaching methods to foster deliberate, passionate learners. You can view my entire process on my Project Blog, or continue below for a summary.
For my first dip into the topic, I conducted a blockbusting activity. I used online research and personal experience to inform how, when, and where study skills are taught
Unless parents intervene earlier, teachers start to implement methods of study in the elementary school classroom that may may be monitored or turned in. This may continue into middle school, but usually stops by the time students enter high school — when it’s assumed that students have identified the skills that work best for them.
There seems to be no “perfect” time or place to teach study skills. If taught too early, the skill may be lost if it is not continually practiced. If it is taught too late, students may not have enough time to refine their process to figure out how they best learn.
I created the map below based on my readings on various learning perspectives. I then explored each learning perspective to determine how I could apply them to teaching study methods.
Thinking Fast and Slow
In order to develop a good habit, you must “think slow” about it first, then over time, with enough diligent repetition, it becomes a “thinking fast” activity. This best applies to learning how to take notes. First students learn a system of hierarchy for their notes, and must actively think about how to organize information during class, a lecture, etc. Later on they will do this activity almost automatically, as it becomes intuitive to determine where information is placed.
There are many mental blocks within the concept of studying: That it’s only done at home (not in the classroom), that it is only to get a good grade (not really to retain knowledge), that it’s a one-and-done activity (rather than a process/system that builds on itself). Keeping a schedule and introducing note-taking methods to help make studying easier later on may be an effective way to break up those mental blocks.
Notes and study tools are largely text-based. While this is ideal for many students, using methods of visual thinking may be required for other students to learn information hierarchy and topic relationships. Tools such as information maps can help a student to visually organize information in a way that makes sense to them.
Some of the knowledge gaps I identified had to do with the schema of studying. Setting up a schedule of that lays out this information may be a cut-and-dried way of showing how little time a student has to devote daily to their system, but how valuable gradual learning is compared to cramming right before a test.
Someone who follows a strict schedule with an organized system of notes may be considered a nerd (who has nothing else to focus on but their studies), but also somewhat of a control freak. To override this schema, I proposed a “cool” teaching/learning method that is not only more convenient than taking notes and studying another way, but is also fun to use.
This is the most difficult parts of studying. Many students have no motivation to take notes or study throughout elementary and middle school, maybe even high school, because the courses are too easy. When it comes time to study, students that never learned how are put at a significant disadvantage. This links back to the schema issue. How do you make studying fun (or at least somewhat rewarding)?
After significant research into the current methods of studying and how to optimize for the learning process, I began to develop Apiary as a product. This included storyboarding to ensure I was including all aspects of the learning cycle, and iterating upon UI designs.
I set up a learning cycle of studying that I followed while constructing my learning experience. Users spiral through the cycle, passing through it multiple times as understanding grows. I then transformed this cycle into a storyboard with accompanying graphics.