• 06Apr
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Educational Technology, Mind Amplifying Tools Comments Off on Wordling through language learning


    Wordle is getting a lot of hype in the educational blogosphere and also within my current study community, but I haven’t added it to my list of recommended techie tools until now because I just wasn’t totally convinced of its value.  It’s basically a tool that allows you to take a chunk of copied text (from an email, a document, etc., from a website url that has an atom feed, or even based on a user’s del.icio.us name) and paste it into a textbox. What comes out on the other end is a word cloud. Here’s an example below of a word cloud I created a second ago by pasting in the text from the ‘About‘ page of Wolfram Mathworld (a comprehensive learning object repository for all things math-related).


    You can customise how the cloud looks, change colours and fonts and layouts, etc.

    I suppose that it could be interesting to pick out key themes, terms, ideas, etc. out of selected works but how can it be usefully applied in an educational context?

    Well, recently a colleague of mine from Dublin, Karl Duff, shared a really creative example with me of using Wordle within a foreign language context. The teacher creates a word cloud of an article or a short story. Students are then shown the cloud and the teacher explains the premise behind Wordle and the idea behind the bigger vs. the smaller words that are generated. Once students are clear on the concept of Wordle, they are asked to work in groups to create a short story based on what they think the Wordle cloud represents. This is, of course, done in the foreign language they are studying. The students are then asked to share their stories with the rest of the class and to discuss the similarities and differences between each group’s main ideas. Finally, the teacher reads out the article or short story that he/she originally selected to create the word cloud.

    That’s the basic idea of the exercise. You could even go further and have the students create word clouds of their stories and compare with the original cloud. You could also add another level to the exercise and have the students individually write reflective essays about how their group’s story aligned with the key themes and ideas of the piece you selected. It all depends on how in depth you want to get.

    To break down the design of the first part of this activity a bit more, I’ve adapted the Hybrid Learning Model (HLM) created by the Centre for Institutional E-Learning Services at the University of Ulster to outline the learning events that could take place in the example above using their mapping grid (pdf):


    I would be very interested to hear how you’ve used Wordle to support your learning and teaching endeavors.

  • 16Feb
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Educational Technology Comments: 1

    I just read the Key Findings (pdf) of The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007 and see some really big differences between my relationship with technology compared to that of these American undergraduates. I wanted to share some of my observations with you here.

    And yes, I am conscious that I’m comparing my behavior (as a current postgraduate student of online and distance education with a UK university while living in the US) with that of undergraduate students in the US, but I think that this is still a really useful reflective exercise to see how I am positioned within this group of students. After all, as a learning technologist, I am indirectly affecting their learning experience by working directly with their teachers in developing teaching aids that integrate information technology to varying degrees. Essentially, what I’m say is that I feel it’s important to know your audience. If my job is to work with the teachers who educate undergraduates, then one way to ensure that I’m doing the best job possible is to know how my ICT recommendations relate to the end user.

    So, now for some telling comparisons…


    The above comparison explains a bit of my aversion to m-learning: I’m not really that interested in cell phones, and perhaps this makes it more difficult to get excited about mobile learning. On the other hand, my heavy use of electronic music/video devices perhaps also helps explain why I’m an advocate of podcasts and audiobooks as learning tools.


    How much do those closest to us influence the way we view and use technology? Is developing ICT skills more of a social activity then a solitary act? Do we participate because we want to keep up? …to remain relevant in conversations? …because we see that others’ lives have been enriched? …or does like attract like? Do innovators all ride the techie wave while the laggards collectively dip in one toe at a time? Can an innovator convert a laggard?

    tech-prefOnly 2.8 percent prefer courses that use technology exclusively?! I thought the majority would be in this grouping! I guess if I had to ask myself why I have this perception, it’s probably because I assume that since this generation grew up immersed in a technology-rich environment, they want that environment to extend naturally into their formal learning space.

    I am one of those students who will opt for the 100% technology-based course almost every time! The study notes that 60% of those asked prefer a ‘moderate’ integration of technology into their courses. What does moderate mean to an undergraduate these days? Moderate to me would mean a standard course wiki, student blogs, podcasts, the occasional webcast (not necessarily live) and the obvious course management system. Is that moderate to you?

    Perhaps a key to answering this last question reveals itself in the results from the open-ended questions where students indicated that IT becomes a barrier to learning when its proliferation creates a more complex learning environment. Could this mean that if they knew how to use the technology from the beginning of a course, it would no longer represent a barrier? Does this mean that secondary education isn’t preparing students enough for post-secondary learning? Or are students expected to learn about how to create a blog, contribute to a wiki and subscribe to a podcast in their own time?

    I have to wonder whether evaluating potential candidates for learning technologist / instructional designer jobs in this way would help institutions and private companies better align competencies and interests with job goals and broader organizational targets.

  • 03Feb
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Educational Technology, Mind Amplifying Tools Comments: 2


    As I’ve just started studying (online) again, my mind is tuning back into things it normally only focuses on when I’m in hard-core academic mode. This morning, for example, (well, actually, for the last two mornings) I’ve been reading through the introductory materials on both of my course websites, and I ended up going through a lot of information related to library resources and referencing tools. The most common bibliographic and bookmarking tools that we’re being recommended are RefWorks and Furl, respectively.

    refworksRefWorks is only available to us while we’re registered students. After that, unless we’re affiliated with an organization that pays for access OR unless we want to pay for an annual subscription ourselves, we loose all of our research collections at the end of the academic term. Basic translation: if you want to be able to access the information you collect and store using RefWorks over then next 6-8 months, this might not be your best choice.furl

    Furl, on the other hand, is a social bookmarking service with many features, accessible from anywhere and free to all. Although they’re not direct substitutes, if I hadn’t already been hooked on Zotero when I first learned about Furl, I probably would have given Furl more of a chance.

    Now we get to the reason for this post! I wanted to share a bibliographic management tool with you that I have found to be invaluable during my courses of study (and tangential resource endeavors). Zotero is a free, open source Firefox plugin that allows you to capture resources as you come across them and organise them into neat research collections. I find it thoroughly enjoyable and intuitive to usezotero

    Zotero allows me to make sense of the piles of information I collect each time I brave the plethora of resources available within just a few clicks of a mouse. To help bring my point home, imagine that if all the files and links I collected were stacks of random pieces of paper covering every square inch of my inevitably invisible imaginary desk, then Zotero would be like the magical fairy that instantly organises all the information into a beautifully systematic filing system that I structure and that is completely aligned with my thought processes. Essentially, it allows me to know where to find stuff when I need it – whether I’m on or off line.

    It also lets me summarise reference collections almost instantly. Let me show you… I’ll share a report I generated from a collection of resources I built relating to online language learning. It generates the report in html format, so I just saved that page as a pdf file which is now available to you simply by clicking here.

    Now that I’ve got you hooked ( 😉 ), let’s watch the video intro together (the video below opens in a new tab/window):

    Zotero even has a social feature called Zotz that allows you to share your reference collections with communities. More info below:

    Here’s an exhibit I just generated. The Zotz add-on still needs a little ironing out, but it’s an exciting new development of an already exceptionally functional information management tool.

    There’s even a WordPress plugin available that helps Zotero better recognise the information in your blog entries which makes for more seamless referencing of this type of information as well. From the screenshot below, you can see the little additional icon that is displayed in your address bar once this plugin is activated. When you’re viewing a WordPress blog, once you click on this icon, a window pops up (as seen below) asking you which of the entries available on the page you’re on you would like to add to your Zotero collections.


    Lots of other screencast tutorials are available for those interested in exploring the tool further.