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.