Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tag Clouds For Learning

In a previous post (“Tools Schmools”) I touched on the fact that it isn’t about the tools, it’s about the learning in sort of a reactive rant. Now after some reflection, I thought I’d support that rant with some specific examples of HOW to actually use one of those tools to promote learning. You’ve seen those slick little tools that make a tag cloud out of any document (Tagcrowd and Wordle) Cool, yes, but what about learning? Here are a few ideas:

David Warlick gave me the idea of making a cloud out of presidential inaugural addresses. The agenda of a president-elect as well as the climate of a country can be revealed. A specific example of this is to compare Nixon’s first address to his second. Look closely and you will see a definite contrast. The word “responsibility” is, ironically very prominent in the second.

One of the struggles with teaching research is to get kids to generate search keywords. Have students generate a cloud on one of the first articles of the search. The big words can often spark further ideas for specific topics. An article on AIDS research reveals the following “BIG” words: “Innocentive” “Rockefeller” and “Vaccineworld.” These could serve as more specific search words that student might not have known.

Another application could reveal bias. Try “Wordling” two articles on the presidential election, war in Iraq, or any other politically-charged issue. Just make sure one is from CNN and one is from Fox. I think you can anticipate the results. But would our kids?

Students in a creative writing class would benefit greatly by running a poem or short story to see if any words predominate either intentionally or unintentionally.

I also know of an English teacher who Wordled and printed biographies of authors studied in class. Not only did they serve as thought-provoking pieces of art, they also focused biographical study of the writers.

The common element is that every application was about the learning, not the tool.

I would love to hear what ideas you have.