Spaced Repetition

Leitner system
Picture props to Wikimedia, user Zirguezi.

Spaced repetition is an underutilized educational technique in dental education. The basic premise is that the material in question is best reviewed more frequently if the student is less confident with the material, and less frequently if the student feels confident with the material. A graphical representation of this idea can be seen in the following picture (thanks to Wikimedia for the image). If one were using physical flashcards, the new cards would go in box 1, which might be reviewed daily; if the card is answered correctly, then it goes to box 2, which might be reviewed every other day. An incorrectly answered card would go back to box 1 for immediate review. This way, cards that the student knows well are reviewed relatively infrequently, whereas the cards that the student gets wrong will be reviewed more often.

Example question from the University of Michigan oral pathology Anki deck.

In the University of Michigan School of Dentistry oral pathology courses, we created a set of digital flashcards using the open source tool, Anki. Students perceived that this was a helpful tool, though we could not collect enough data to prove that those students who used it frequently were performing better as a result. We attempted measuring Anki use by having students export their usage times and upload that information to us, but we found that most students were using the software only for the few days before their exams, primarily as a "cramming" tool. Those few students who were using the software as it was intended (daily or near daily use, only reviewing 15-20 cards per day) were too few in number for us to evaluate with any statistical confidence.

Graphical representation of a student's study habits.

In order for spaced repetition to be effective, it must be used frequently and over a relatively long period of time. In future attempts to utilize spaced repetition softwares in the classroom, I plan to use softwares with comprehensive data gathering tools that allow for the instructor to assess student performance on the cards. If a student is regularly using such a software, the instructor should be able to see what facets of knowledge a student is having difficulty with, as well as those areas in which the student is excelling. This would allow the instructor to adjust teaching methods, as well as tailor the focus of curriculum according to collective and individual strengths and weaknesses—in addition to the benefits that students already receive from using spaced repetition in their learning.

At the bottom of this page, you will eventually find some helpful links: one to the Anki website, another to download some sample decks for oral pathology, and some links to educational research in spaced repetition. As always, email me if you have any questions about these experiences.

Links not yet completed. Please check back for updates!