App Month: Wordle
During March 2014, ICET will be sharing reviews of apps and online tools for teaching and learning.
I'm going to make a guarded admission. It took me a long while to see the pedagogical benefits of word clouds.
For the uninitiated, a word cloud (sometimes referred to as a tag cloud) is a collage of words, often displayed in interesting shapes, colors, and font and representing a weighted list. The words are a visual depiction of the frequency tabulation of the words in any selected written material, such as lecture notes, a textbook chapter or an internet site. Font size is used to indicate frequency, so the larger the font size, the more frequently a word is used.
Word clouds don't tap into my learning style, and as such I struggled to see what information these cleverly designed images provided. Most of my study time involved math and engineering problem-solving. Word clouds do not exactly fit this environment, either.
But, when I considered the information that a word cloud provides - a visual representation of frequency of words in a text - I began to see it's value. Take a look at the word cloud below for Richard Nixon's 1952 Checkers speech. A quick glance reveals the words that are used most frequency. A historical scholar might make connections between the focus on these words and make comparisons to earlier or later Nixon speeches or the political speeches of others.
Word Cloud, Richard Nixon's 1952 Checkers speech
Beyond finding out which words and concepts were emphasized in historical speeches, there are several other potential uses for word clouds:
- Help students recognize which words or adjectives they tend to overuse in their papers.
- Display the results of a poll.
- Make a word cloud in advance of a lesson, to see what students already know about the topic and what words they associate with it.
- Create a word cloud of the class syllabus to show what they’ll be learning throughout the course.
Wordle is a simple-to-use tool to create word clouds. The online interface allows you to cut and paste long texts or type a list of words in the editing box. A java engine delivers the word cloud in seconds. The resultant word cloud can even be edited. Colors and fonts can be changed randomly or specifically to get just the right look. Although, java prevents the creation of an image file (e.g., .jpg or .png), a screenshot can be taken of the word cloud to create an image.
Wordle is a free tool, and users are free to use the images they create in any way you choose.
Links to the online Wordle application can be placed in Desire2Learn content areas to make it easy for students to use the tool.
Screen captures of the word clouds created with Wordle can be added as images to content in Desire2Learn.
PLATFORM: Wordle is an online Java applet located at www.wordle.net
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