How do I set up a simple database for vocabulary terms?
December 10, 2009 6:07 PM   Subscribe

How do I make a database of vocabulary terms and definitions to use for teaching? What software, settings, etc. should I use?

I teach college level courses in the humanities, and my students are often responsible for learning a range of terms and definitions.

So, I'd like to compile a database of terms and their corresponding definitions. This database could then, theoretically, be used in generating quizzes, exams, and review sheets that I could give to my students. What would be the best software and procedures to accomplish this?

Is Microsoft Access the way to go? If so, as one who hasn't used Access before, where can I find a quick tutorial to help me learn how to best set up this type of simple database up and occasionally import some of its contents to Word?

A few considerations:

*I use Microsoft Word 2003. Items should be easy to import into Word and be saved as part of exams that include other non-vocab related sections.

*A feature of lesser importance (but still nice) would be an ability to tag terms, to indicate what sorts of subject matter they relate to.

*I'm not a programmer, so the simpler the better.

Thanks for any advice.
posted by washburn to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
Can it be a public database? If you aren't a programmer, how about wiki software or blogging software? You can cut and paste from a web page into Microsoft Word. Some wikis and blogs will have tagging capabilities (this is usually called "categories" when it's a wiki). There are lots of sites that offer a free wiki or blog.
posted by XMLicious at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2009

It sounds like you want to build a dictionary. It's a well studied problem ;)

People have thought about it pretty hard, and if you ignore their work, you'll miss out on some important aspects and probably fail at building a robust enough schema. It's more than just word - defintion pairs.

For example, take the word google:

n. an internet search company
v. slang to search the world wide web for blah.

You have a one word to many definitions mapping, potentially. And each definition might have a tag like slang, or cardiovascular. This might not seem important to you for nursing students or whatever you're targeting, but for testing student comprehension you want to use alternative wordings of definitions.
Relational Database:
1. A data store that describes relations between data.
2. A database that stores relations between rows.
3. A datastore based on set theory.

Unfortunately, I think Microsoft's custom dictionaries only contain words, for spell checking. There are open standards, but these are primarily to provide a centralized massive dictionary query, not small custom ones. I don't think anything does quite what you want out of the box.

The Access or similar SQL route would get the job done, but you could go with XML processing and blah XSLT blah blah. Go with Access; I think you can copy/paste in Access, which does the job good enough if you randomize it yourself.

As far as learning personal databases, you need to know Datatypes, relations, and probably foreign keys, in SQL. MS might have a query tool you can use instead of SQL, again I'm clueless.
posted by pwnguin at 7:52 PM on December 10, 2009

I use it every day for terms and vocabulary. It's an incredible tool.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:17 PM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

More detail: Quizlet generates quizzes and has games, flashcard generation, etc. It also has a great database of definitions to choose from (which you can modify or just replace with your own).

It's also free.

(Designed by a high school student who's now at MIT)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:18 PM on December 10, 2009

As much as it pains me to say this, Excel might be more useful here than Access. Just set up a spreadsheet with what you want. You can sort by any of the columns (so you can get all the words related to "foo" for tomorrow's quiz). You can easily search, and copy and paste (or import) into Word.

I would be happy to give you a brief tutorial. (I teach MS Office apps.) Email's in my profile. Or send me some of the info you need organized, and I can put an example together for you.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:28 AM on December 11, 2009

Excel lists can be imported/exported to/from Quizlet, by the way. You'll have a much, much easier time generating your lists in Quizlet, where definitions are supplied (dozens of them--you choose), than copying/pasting into Excel.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:36 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

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