Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Word Cloud: Wordle

            Getting the gist of a selection of text has never been easier. With Wordle users can plug in a body of text or a website URL to create a cloud of associated words. What makes word clouds effective is the way in which individual words are displayed. Instead of having a smattering of words that cannot easily be differentiated and read, Wordle displays words according to how often they occur in text. Words that were used the most appear largest and words that were used least appear smallest. Some words may appear to be the same size but if a large body of text is used, it is likely that words will appear in a large array of font sizes. Words are randomly placed but some adjustments can be made for style. For instance, users can choose to have words arranged horizontally or vertically, arranged in a rounded or straight edged cloud, in a particular font, or in certain colors. The background color on which the words are displayed can also be adjusted. Therefore, Wordle word clouds can be used for both informational and artistic purposes.

What I Learned
            I have used Wordle and seen Wordle used in the past. However, as I investigated it once more, I learned a new trick that I had not known previously. Once a word cloud is created, individual words can be removed. Often, when pasting in a large body of text, filler words will be used throughout the word cloud which can distract from the meaning of the word cloud overall.

How I Would Use It
            In the elementary school, Wordle could be used within the first days of school to create a classroom mission statement, list of rules, or classroom expectations poster by having each student make a list of student, teacher, and class expectations and/or goals. This could be done anonymously. The teacher would have to collect the suggestions and place them into the Wordle creator. Then, the students could see what ideas were shared among the class. The teacher and students could work together to incorporate the five words that appear the largest and most often (Wordle does not differentiate words by capitalization or word endings; you may see both, “student,” and, “Students,” in the same cloud.) into their class mission statement or document. Doing so would allow students to take more responsibility and ownership in the classroom. In addition, the teacher could work with the students to remove the filler words from the Word Cloud in order to use the product as a wall hanging in the classroom.
What I Did
            In my most recent investigation of the Wordle tool, I compared the word clouds of two documents. Fist, I copy and pasted the NETS-T standards from 2000 into the word cloud creator. I played with my creation so that the words would be horizontal for easy reading and that the colors would match the original document. I also rearranged the layout of the words until I found one that was aesthetically pleasing to me. I adjusted the design features and layout by clicking on the drop down lists available at the top of my word cloud and choosing options like, “mostly horizontal,” “straighter edges,” “custom palette,” “lots of variation,” and “re-layout with current settings.” There are so many options! Every time I found a style I liked, I would make a small adjustment and found that I liked that look even better!

            Next, I copy and pasted the NETS-T standards from 2008. I made very little adjustments to the style of the word cloud as the random generator chose I style I already liked. The point of making two word clouds from document that had been adjusted over time was so that I could compare and contrast them to determine how ideas have changed. Since these documents deal with the technology standards in education, I was bound to see differences. Not only has technology (tools and use) changed dramatically over that eight-year span, but the field of education has changed.

            By comparing the word clouds, I noticed two things. There was one word stood out above the rest in each cloud however, the word was different for each. The 2000 cloud emphasized, “technology,” while the 2008 cloud emphasized, “learning.” In addition, there was a greater range in text size for the 200 cloud; some words were very large and many were very small. In contrast, there was less of a range in text size for the 2008 cloud, almost all of the words were of a readable size with few being very large. These things suggest to me that the NETS-T standards have changed from emphasizing teaching about technology through limited means and themes to emphasizing teaching with technology in a multitude of ways.

Standards Reflection
            Using Wordle in the classroom best associates with standard 1 and its components within the ISTE-NETS-T’s standards. Standard 1 requires teachers to create incorporate technology that will facilitate and inspire students in ways that will enhance student learning, creativity and innovation. Wordle, allowing the teacher and/or students to present information in a unique, fun, and engaging ways, enables students to think about information in new ways that may advance critical thinking, creative thinking, and innovative thinking.

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