23 June 2008

Twisting a Tag Cloud, or, Exploring New Technology: Wordle

So, as I was leafing through my Reader this morning, my tired eyes were drawn to the plethora of tag clouds wafting through the inter-air. I saw Meredith's. Then Jenica's. Then decided I wanted one too.

So I hopped on over to Wordle, put my del.icio.us tags in and WOW...there I was, a pretty little cloud of libraries, technology, web 2.0, vermont, sustainability, activism, innovation, and media. I was beautiful. Except that I couldn't seem to get it off of the webpage and onto my blog post.

So, I went exploring how to do that. The first thing I did, was look in Wordle's FAQ, assuming that it was something easy that just didn't come to me right off the bat. However, I was disheartened to read that no, it was not so easy. You could save your wordle as a screenshot but since it is a Java Applet, you cannot save it as a jpeg. Hmm. You could save it as a pdf, but how am I supposed to get a pdf into my blog post?

Breathe. Think. Try something else. Let's see what someone else did.

So, I hopped back over to Meredith's blog, since she is a bit of a guru. And I started copying things like "firefoxscreensnapz" and googling it to see what it is, and how did she do this, and GRRRR.

And then...sigh, I realized I could just copy my screen shot into the Paint accessory, crop it, and save it as a JPEG. Thank goodness.

Is this the most tech-savvy way to do this? Probably not. But that's what I came up with and I have to get back to work pretty soon here. It's not exactly the size I want, but as both Jenica and Meredith point out, you can see an awful lot from very little.

And that got me thinking: what could this be good for? Tomorrow, I am speaking at a course for educators about using 2.0 technology in the classroom. So, what might I do with this in my classes?

Hmm. For a number of semesters before I was blessed to design a course of my own on technology and society, I taught five semesters of freshman writing. The number one problem first years have with writing is that they don't know what their papers are really about. They meander across multiple topics, losing track of their thoughts, let alone the thoughts of others. What if students pasted a few paragraphs or even their whole paper into Wordle so they could see what their paper was really about? It might be a great way of helping students see the direction their papers are headed, whether they know it or not. Bringing 2.0 to students to help them become better writers? Whoa.

Or, what if we used it in online education? What if the week's discussion threads were pasted into Wordle as a way to capture the key points of the week? Or within a lecture? I know that my students would be grateful for a more aesthetically pleasing and accessible method of keeping tabs on key points in a week's discussion. Using 2.0 to expedite masses of information for deeper reflection? Whoa, again.

And what about in the library? Perhaps as a way to market ourselves: let's put a print out of a Wordle tag cloud out this year's "Come to the Library" flyer. What words pop up the most? Might it attract students attention as they are scanning the kiosks and bulletin boards more than just a picture and some text? Perhaps.

These are just a few thoughts right off the bat. I'm sure you've got others. I hope you will share them.

10 June 2008

Wikipedia in IL: a perspective anyone and everyone should edit?

Like many librarians, I belong to a number of listservs. And often times, I don't read threads thoroughly or at all. But ones that relate to Wikipedia...those spark my interest.

A new librarian recently posted to the listserv a request for good starting points for research. Specifically, she wanted to know if members of the listserv would recommend Wikipedia as a start for research to undergrads.

Another librarian took a hard line:
While your goal of building or strengthening critical thinking and evaluative skills is an admirable one, we usually have so little time with the students that it's best to stick with useful, trustworthy resources rather than bad resources such as Wikipedia.

The Sheck couldn't sit quiet (she has that problem). Here is my response to the initial query and my thoughts about the "badness" of Wikipedia.
We encourage our students to use Wikipedia as a starting point for their research papers. As you said, it provides students a general overview of a topic, an opportunity to identify keywords, and in general, offers them a place to jump off from. A link to Wikipedia is included in our Subject Guides with a disclaimer that Wikipedia is not considered a citeable source for a college level research paper.

Three things I include in my Information Literacy sessions:
1. I ask students why they are told they can't use Wikipedia. Invariably, they respond that it "anyone can edit it" or it is "unreliable". My response, I tell them, is that it is not about information anyone can edit but rather using an encyclopedia of any sort as a citation in a college level research paper. At the college level, you should be delving deeper than an encyclopedia. I qualify my statement by using examples of subject specific encyclopedias (Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion, for example). But in large part, the grumbling stops. They see my point.

2. We then discuss the difference between a Works Cited page and a Bibliography. This is a great way to introduce students to the value of these resources. Once they see the usefulness of them, they tend to be amazed at how many resources they have available to them in one place! Then it is easy to get them into databases...they have something they actually want to find.

3. Show your students the “Researching With Wikipedia” page
If you look at the Overview and Article quality sections, it looks an awful lot like the writing process students are going through, especially those first year students that are rely so heavily on Wikipedia. It’s a process!

As for Wikipedia being generally "bad", I couldn't disagree more. Wikipedia is changing: it is different today than it was two years ago and it will be different in two years than it is today. Between Wikipedia’s recent Sloane Grant, linking to other online projects (like the Open Library), and its own efforts to be clear about what it is and what it isn’t, Wikipedia is dynamic, fluid, and frankly, engaging people in learning and knowledge, something libraries should embrace and applaud.

But more importantly, a key component to creating information literate students is asking students to know which sources are appropriate for their situations. When they graduate, many students access to databases and the “good” resources we offer them are dismantled. What kind of lifelong learners are we creating if we don’t talk to them about what they can use that’s free, available, and ubiquitous? We should be including sources in our information literacy sessions that students regularly use in order to help them recognize what “good” is. The information you need depends on what you want to know. Sometimes, you can find good information in Wikipedia and Google. And sometimes you can’t. I want my students to identify their expectations for information so they know what to look for in the vast amounts of information and choice that they find every time they look at a screen. Only then will they get past wanting the first thing in favor of the best thing.

My faculty supports that effort because they see it as a direct application of the skills and knowledge they are teaching their students in the classroom.

There it is. Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? Links that take the argument further or that shatter it?

03 June 2008

I am Seeing the Green!

Post posting on Friday, Jon and I crossed the Lake to spend the weekend at St. Lawrence University for his college reunion. It was a meeting of the minds. SLU highlighted their sustainability efforts as the focal point to the reunion. When we checked in for registration, we received cloth bags that said “The Greening of the Scarlet and Brown”, their school colors. They held tours of their LEED certified buildings, held workshops highlighting their sustainability programs both in and out of the classroom, and made abundantly clear how sustainability is a key factor in all decisions at that school. Their Green Pages are well worth checking out as both a way to inform and market initiatives.
They clearly have support for sustainability running through their administration, student body, board of trustess, and facilities. It is exciting to see. I also found out that SLU's Science Librarian, Eric Williams-Bergen, who I did not have the good fortune of meeting, is the chair of SLU's Conservation Council. Green Librarians Unite!

And that led me to seeking out some other green initiatives among librarians. I found this very cool post at the San Francisco Public Library's Magazine Center where they were highlighting mags that might give good tips about how to green up. And then, a whole blog devoted to greening up your library. I am on the hunt for more, so stay tuned.