SlimStampen's university adventure

"What I really like about SlimStampen is the theory is behind it. Everyone can come up with something random that might work better for learning, but in this case the science of 'how the memory works' is actually backing it."

—Katja Mehlhorn, PhD

In the Artificial Intelligence (AI) department of the University of Groningen (UG), a number of courses use SlimStampen to teach students factual knowledge. Students who learn concepts using SlimStampen no longer need to take an exam on this material. In addition, teachers said that it is “nice that students learn those facts” during the block “and hopefully they also enjoy it.”

We talked to Katja Mehlhorn (PhD). She is a lecturer at the University of Groningen and coordinator of the AI learning communities program for the Department of AI. In her course she uses SlimStampen to teach students definitions. SlimStampen is an algorithm that creates a computer model of a student's memory, based on learning behavior. It then presents facts at the optimal moment, the moment when someone has almost forgotten a fact. This ensures that people remember facts as effectively as possible. This is one of the main reasons Katja mentioned to like learning with SlimStampen “because you think 'oh yes I almost forgot, but now I remember.'”

Every student must learn factual knowledge, but teachers prefer to ask insight questions during the exam

Katja told us that before using SlimStampen it was difficult to ensure that (AI) students kept up with the course progress. While the 'Intro to the Brain' course coordinators said they “wanted students to read the book and learn facts from the book. Teachers don't want to have to test all those facts in an exam.” That is why the team decided “we can test chapters in SlimStampen. So we let students learn there. That way, we don't have to assess that knowledge in an exam. Then we can ask insight questions in the exam since the facts are already covered.”

University lecturers at the RUG mainly use SlimStampen to test definitions. As Katja mentioned, it is important for every student to also learn factual knowledge: “AI students also need to know some facts.” The first-year AI course Intro to the Brain has been using SlimStampen for two years in a row with about 140 students. Katja was “very enthusiastic and wanted to use it, because it is a really fun way to learn.” In the second year, during the Corona pandemic, the period of studying at home, it was nice to have access to SlimStampen. Katja mentioned that, since they already introduced SlimStampen the first year: "that's nice, we already had that. So we didn't have to worry about that and we could just keep using it."

In order to use SlimStampen, the teachers had to ensure that the questions entered the system, via SlimStampen's interface. Crafting questions that work well can be tricky. According to Katja, “a lesson stands or falls with the right questions.” To enter those good questions into the system, the Intro to the Brain team had “made a team of two student assistants responsible for one chapter for each week.” The teachers then double-checked the questions and adjusted them where necessary. So every week students had a lesson with a number of questions that they practiced in SlimStampen.

We can test chapters in SlimStampen. So we let students learn there. That way, we don't have to assess that knowledge in an exam.

Katja Mehlhorn

Student assessment is handled by SlimStampen

To ensure that every student is up-to-date with the material of the week SlimStampen uses, so-called, Mastery credits. In the background, the system assesses whether students know the facts in a lesson sufficiently well, i.e. whether the lesson has been 'mastered'. When the lesson is deemed sufficiently well known, the student earns a credit. This is important, said Katja, because “as a teacher you want to be able to say 'this is the level they need to reach, so that they pass and can move on to the next lesson.'” She likes the fact that SlimStampen offers this feature to teachers, because as a teacher you “want to have some kind of threshold where you can say: 'if you have passed that, then we believe that you know those facts.'” Without SlimStampen it would have been difficult to determine this level, because “how do you then judge whether someone knows the facts well enough, and what is good enough?” As Katja says: "The strong thing about SlimStampen is that you have a very good idea about knowledge levels."

The future of SlimStampen at the UG

The UG is in the process of switching from their old learning management system to Brightspace. So Brightspace will soon display all course documents needed for students to take courses. In addition, this will be the platform through which teachers communicate with students. Both homework assignments and exam assessments are made visible in Brightspace's grade center. Katja told us that “it would be nice if you would have an integration with the grade center.”

The integration with BrightSpace is one of SlimStampen's goals for next year. This would be very helpful for teachers and students. For students because it “makes a lot of sense.” For example, Katja has “a folder per week” and she would think it would be useful for students “that you then immediately have a link there for that week to the SlimStampen lesson, where they can immediately study for that week.” According to Katja, this would prevent a lot of confusion among students. In addition, “it would make it a lot easier for the teacher. Then I can immediately see 'these students have not yet received their credits for this week.'”

At the end of our conversation, Katja emphasized that she liked SlimStampen because it “applies the scientific theories of how memory works, and shows you how it works.” She went on to say, “that's definitely better than random flashcards, or whatever else anyone has come up with. There is really something behind this and I really think that is great.”

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