Tag Clouds – More Possibilities

Tag Clouds – More Possibilities

It’s been a while since I last blogged about using tag clouds in education. In the meantime things have moved on particularly with the arrival of the very wonderful Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/). Very easy to use, you just simply paste in your text and click on ‘go’. There’s a randomise button to allow you to choose between different displays. The only issue I have wit it is that there should be an A –Z display option to allow you to search for specific terms.

Anyway I was moved to investigate this via a recent twitter post form Tom Barrett who links to a very interesting presentation ‘THIRTY Interesting Ways* to use Wordle in the Classroom’, (Web Link). So I’m listing some of my favourites here and brainstorming related HE context scenarios as I go along. Blimey this is going to be a long post…

1 – Use sites like Project Gutenberg and grab the text from copyright free books. Paste into Wordle and then print and write a quiz (or use a Google Docs Form).

3 – Use Wordle to share criteria. Copy and paste grade related criteria into Wordle to highlight the main areas students need to concentrate on to gain the best grades.

5 – Using Wordle and Etherpad to share success criteria. Groups of students use Assessment Objectives for their coursework. They worked in small groups to identify keywords and terms. So they use Etherpad (http://etherpad.com/ – this is fantastic – more of this in the next post) to collaborate and put in keywords on shared pad. Students then copy their shared list of keywords into Wordle and produce their own Wordle cloud.

6 – Guess the French fairytale. Then use to highlight key words so students can write own tales. Okay so this is not HE – but something similar could be done for He students. For instance deconstructing policy documents, checking if particular terms are used, even over used and picking out further elements to collate into related resources.

7 – Make the syllabus look interesting! Basically put the syllabus through a tag cloud. I think I’ll use this for my next module on blended learning. I’ve seen related applications here at the university e.g. advertising a particular units’ roles and responsibilities and it has been suggested that we tag cloud the papers submitted for out International Blended Learning conference. 6 – Improve students’ essay writing… Copy and paste students’ essays into Wordle – compare the results and discuss what has/hasn’t been included in the essays… Mark Russell, fellow tag cloud explorer, has used this in a similar fashion with his students when asking them to describe their concept of learning. He then tag clouded the results for debate.

10 – Have each student write expectations he has of the classroom. I will definitely use this for the blended learning module for which I usually ask my students to outline their expectations / what they wish to gain from the course. I may even extend it to their feedback at the end and compare the two.

11 – Find out what ideas are most important in a famous speech. Have mentioned this before when we tag clouded our Vice Chancellor’s annual speech.

12 – Defining Skills. Give your students a new vocabulary word and ask them to brainstorm all the words they associate with it. Gather up all the brainstormed words as a tagged cloud. Similar to what Mark did as reported in option 6 but this time deliberately asking for one/two word phrases.

13 – Summarizing Skills – Some good suggestions here such as, as a pre-reading exercise, copy/paste text of reading into a tag cloud and ask students to predict what the main ideas of the reading will be. I could do the same, say for introducing learning theory such as Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. 1

7 – Act as archaeologists of a text’s vocabulary. This could be very interesting, particularly for older texts on learning and e-learning.

18 – Analyze Your Presentation Notes, (I REALLY like this and again will use it). Create a slide presentation and write the notes in the Notes section of the slide. Once the presentation is ready paste the notes into a tag cloud. You can analyze where their words are repetitive and even adjust the notes. It can be used as a teaser slide at the beginning of the presentation.

28 – Prioritize Curriculum – Tag cloud Standards / Performance Indicators to begin the discussion of creating a common language around the critical pieces of curriculum that should be represented in every teacher’s classroom. For my HE context this could be the module aims and learning outcomes.

Another use that springs to mind from my context is of using tag clouds to represent policy documents. This could be a useful exercise for generating dialogue between students, e.g. tag clouding an NHS policy document for instance and then discussing it’s implications.

Anyway more possible uses can be found in the presentation, (Web Link).

I am left wondering however as more and more of us becomes aware of tag clouds – will it become passé? Depends on the context of course. What I like about the above suggestions is that the focus is on the technology as a catalyst leading to further activity rather than a end in itself.

Incidentally this is a useful illustration of using Google Docs as a collaborative tool. Similar to a wiki you could get students to work on co creating a presentation. One the advantage over the wiki however is that the changes another person makes appears in real-time – in other words right in front of you, (you need to have Google account to edit the presentation however though).

CPAD Programme Details for the University of Hertfordshire

CPAD Programme Details for the Academic Year 2008/09

Blogs in education part 2

Okay. Onwards in my quest to find examples of using blogs for learning and teaching. I’m particularly after straight forward examples of their use for which I can then summarise and pass on to those of you who are interested.

Stuart Glogoff’s article ‘Instructional Blogging: Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centered Learning, and Peer Input’ (Web Link, as mentioned in an earlier post provides a range of examples. In particular he uses blogs to encourage guided discovery and knowledge construction. In one of his modules, for example, he asks students to do additional reading on specific topics while referring back to the course materials. After this exploration, the students synthesized their views through blogging in which they presented what they had learned as applied to real-world situations. Commenting by other students was actively encouraged since, as Stuart recognizes, this encourages collaboration – the students are working together to build knowledge. As Stuart observes, they are engaging in cognitive scaffolding through which they revisit the learning space, build upon prior knowledge, think about what they have learned, and drill deeper for more information.

Often individual student blogs are usually the main focus of these articles. However it’s worth realizing the power of the class blog when used in association with personal blogs. Class blogs can be used to post summaries, (BTW class blogs are available on the module website within StudyNet). For instance students could be required to summarise their entries on their personal blog into one blog entry for the class blog. Or as Stuart notes the class blog can be used to supplement the blogging exercise in which the tutor provides additional information such as summaries of important classroom discussions, reinforce the sessions key learning’s, and clarify points that students had struggled to understand. In either case you should take care to make full use of the tagging facilities when using the class blog as this helps to add some order to the entries made there. For example you could categorize particular entries left by yourself (‘assignment’, ‘’new topic’ etc.) or encourage the students to add tags relating to the subject of their entries.

Finally blogs in themselves may only be part of a bigger picture. Christian Dalsgaard’s article, ‘Social software: E-learning beyond learning management systems’ (Web Link), describes as to how he uses blogs to direct students towards problem solving. In this context the blogs are tools with which the student can use to solve problems on their own and in collaboration with others students. He further stresses that, and this is something I often talk about, blogs should not be used on their own. Any activity which by it’s nature is problem-based and requires collaborative effort needs tools which support construction, presentation, reflection, collaboration. So we’re talking about personal blogs being used in association with forums, wikis, class blogs etc. He even goes so far as to identify the need for tools for finding people and other resources of relevance to their problem – basically social networking elements which again is an issue close to my heart and the subject of an earlier blog entry relating to the future evolution of socially based MLEs. And the result? We have ‘An open-ended learning environment provides students with multiple possibilities for activities.’

Interesting Ways to Use a Wiki in the Classroom

Well in fact 9 interesting ways. I picked this up recently via Tom Barrett on Twitter (twitter.com/tombarrett). This is collection of slides held as a Google Doc. A variety of authors have come up with a number of unique and interesting ways in which wikis can be used to support the student learning experience. Most of these are aimed at school level education but have equal applicability to the HE context.

Among my favourite suggestions are:

* Create a subject-specific repository – students are made responsible for their own pages.
* Ask for student to respond on projects, classwork, class discussions, visiting experts.
* Allow Students to create pages:for fun, to communicate, to relieve stress, to organize for presentations.
* Sharing teaching techniques among staff – build up a library of techniques.
* Use the discussion elements as a forum for students to air issues relevant to them,e.g. they could create separate wiki pages relating to certain issues, (stress, useful resources etc.). I like this because it emphasises the fact that each wiki page has its own discussion forum which allow students to talk around the issue.

(just realised I’ve listed nearly all the uses! – still have a look at the presentation as this has more detail).

Anyway have a look yourself (Web Link). If you’re new to Google Docs there’s some really interesting features. For instance in the bottom right corner is a ‘view together’ option which allows you to see anyway else who is view the presentation and exchange ideas via a text box.

Blogs in education part 1

Okay, so as promised some more on blogging – their use and assessment of. To help me along I found a very useful resource called ‘Instructional Blogging: Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centred Learning, and Peer Input’ by Stuart Glogoff, (link). There are some very interesting and very useful methods outlined here relating to how he incorporated blogging into the curriculum.

His course assignments requires each student to:

* Post entries to their own personal blog (available in student)
* Read entries on their classmates blog and leave 3 substantive comments per week

Stuart points out that the comments help not only to ensure active participation but also provides feedback and validation of the initial student’s contribution from their peers. It’s worth noting that the student on realizing that their work will be up for public scrutiny may make an extra effort in terms of creativity and recognizing the contribution of others. The outcome of such an exercise is a positive learning community.

A good idea is to extend the exercise bringing in further collaboration. Personal blogging as outlined here is very good for independent learning and building confidence and ownership of the blogged content. What the tutor could now do is exploit these outcomes by having the student post to a communal class blog (also available in StudyNet on the module website) where everyone has equal rights in terms of adding content. So the class could be tasked with coming up with a final solution or argument using the class blog to explore the issues raised in their personal blogs.

Stuart demonstrates this by creating a class blog to act ‘as a common space for students to explore individual findings related to one of the course’s main themes’, in his case ‘recognizing and explaining real-world uses for new technologies’.

The students are required to:

* share new insights with each other
* read each other’s entries
* use the comments feature to add new content.

The key issue here is off course blending this into the course delivery. It wont happen by asking the students to go away and do these things. I know form experience that such activity needs an appropriate face to face element for the tutor to outline the task, Stuart outlines the process of knowledge construction for a blog entry for instance.

Assessing blogs

How do we assess blogs in teaching?  In the past I have tended to focus on the benefits blogging can bring to education. And this is an area I will continue to focus on. However for the next few weeks I’m going to look at assessing student blogging as an academic exercise. I’m not saying that the experience should be led by the method of assessment but what I intend to do here is explore as to how other practitioners have assessed student blogs and in doing so provide some tips. At the same time I hope to outline examples of how some of blogs have been used.

First off some useful ideas on how to get things going provided by David Warlick, (blog). They focus on getting tboth author and reader to ask themselves a series of questions. I’ve altered these slightly to put a tutor: student context to them.
When writing a blog, the student should ask:

1. What did I read in order to write this blog?  What do I know and where did that knowledge come from?
2. What are all points of view on the issue?
3. What do you wish the readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
4. What will not be said?  What are some of the remaining questions about the issue? (I like this one).

From the tutor perspective (or if you the student if you are using peer assessment) when reading a blog, ask yourself:

1. What did the student read in order to write this blog?  What did they already know and where did that knowledge come from?
2. What are the other points of view?  What are the other sides of the story?
3. What did the student want readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
4. What was left unsaid?  What are the remaining questions and issues?
The next post will look at some practicalities.

A new direction

Okay so I’m back after a small break (the reason is here). I thought I would re start by using my blog to pull together the varying thoughts I have on using socially based learning technologies  in learning-  not so much on their benefits as that’s been covered elsewhere but with regard to the nitty gritty of using these technologies, i.e. ‘how do I fit this into my assessment?’.  benefits, and so for the next few weeks I’ll be focussing on blogs followed by wikis etc.

Multi Touch Technology on its way

If you’re going to BETT 2009 this year (Web Link) keep an eye out for the new SMART Table which uses multi touch technology.

As you may be aware SMART tend to dominate classroom interactive boards and now it seems they are set to do the same with the so called ‘table computers’.

Multi-touch technology consists of a touch screen which recognizes multiple simultaneous touch points. This basically allows more than one person to use the computer at the same time – very interesting for collaboration. The video below shows how it might be used in schools. To be honest the images are not that clear so I’ve also added a link to the Microsoft Table Computer which shows a lot of intersting possibilities (be warned it has cheesy music).


Anyone want to offer any suggestions for possible uses?

Poetry, Maths and Growing Posts

I like the latest post from the Sargent Park Math Zone (Web Link) which is a classroom blog hub for grade 8 students (14 years old) in Canada.

What’s happening here is that Chris Harbeck is teaching maths through the medium of poetry. The students have been asked to create 5 poems describing integers. What’s interesting is that they have make their submissions via the blogging system through what are known as growing posts.

Basically a growing post is simply a single blog post whose content is repeatadly edited and modified until a final solution is reached. Now I really like the notion of the growing post – the fact that it can be used to produce student created content which is visible not only to the tutor but also to the rest of the class to comment on. I’ll be using this when I next run the Blended Learning in Higher Education module. Here I will require the students to create a growing post on a particular topic (probably relating to the Standards Framework) and ask them to leave comments on 3 other growing posts. When they revise their growing post I’ll ask them to post a comment summarising the changes they have made in the light of those comments left by others. Finally I’ll add my own comment.

Question – What uses Twitter, google Earth and Google Docs?

Answer: A 21st Century primary school class.

From the ‘ICT in my Classroom’ blog (Web Link).

Another example of early school use of technology to enhance their learning. In this examples it’s science – specifically looking at how day length varies across the UK and the differences around the world.

Google Earth was used to illustrate the movement of the Earth’s shadow.

Google Docs added a collaborative element in which the students worked in pairs on the same document. Google Docs saves changes instantly and can be shared. In this case it was shared with the rest of the class through the tutor’s laptop being linked to the SMARTBoard and each students laptop.

Twitter, and this is very interesting, was to get real data from real people. Without going into detail Twitter is a microblogging tool through which people send small updates (called tweets). Tom asked his network of peers to send in their locations for the class to work out the day length for and allow contrasts with their onw. And this was the highlight of the session – real data, from real people in real locations, “Purposeful challenges from real people. It provided the whole class an opportunity to think, if only for a few minutes, as global citizens.”

Tom states “it was an great hour or so and I believe the tools we chose to use to support our learning were the correct ones. I was of course pleased to see the children engaging with Google Docs so effortlessly, it is just part of what we do now.”, (and remember these are primary school aged kids).

Can anyone think as to how these technologies might be used within the HE environment?