My summer courses are winding down again and I wanted to try something different for my final discussion topic where students reflect on what they’ve learned that term. I decided to try using Wordle as a visual tool for summarizing text, instead of simply using the typical discussion board posts.
For those of you who haven’t used Wordle before, it’s a fun tool that creates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The largest words in the cloud are ones that are used the most in the text, and the smallest words are used the least. You can experiment with different layouts, fonts and color schemes (as well as editing your original text to eliminate words or make others more prominent). The resulting clouds are visually interesting, and provide many opportunities for educational use.
Some of the advantages of using Wordle include that it is free and easy to use, and that you don’t need an account (so no additional passwords to remember!). A downside is that Wordle is not “policed” for content, so it’s possible that younger students could find inappropriate content if they search the gallery images. Also, you cannot save your Wordle directly as an image, although you could save it to the online gallery or print it. If you want your Wordle preserved as an image you could take a screen shot and then edit that using image editing software.
Many blogs brainstorm on educational use of Wordle, and here are some interesting lists of ways to use Wordle:
And this site goes into a little more detail with an actual classroom example of using Wordle to determine the gist of the original articles used to generate the Wordle text.
So how did I decide to use Wordle? I used it as a reflection tool at the end of the semester. Students were instructed to compile a list of the main terms or ideas they had learned over the term, and to “weight” the list by repeating the most important terms to make them more prominent. They then entered the text into Wordle, and saved a screenshot of their word cloud to attach in the discussion board. We then discussed the differing student takeaway messages as illustrated in their Wordles. Two sample student Wordles are given below and you can see that they both emphasize different words and use different layouts to express themselves (although students did seem to love the color schemes with black backgrounds). The student creating the example on the right focused some of the main ideas on the controversies we explored (using ‘vs’ to show different points of view), while the student who created the example on the left focused on how evolution was a theme throughout the course. All in all, I was happy with the assignment and I hope the students enjoyed it.
So go ahead, give Wordle a whirl and let us know how you end up using it...
– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Senior Academic Trainer & Consultant