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.


Meredith said...

I just took a screenshot of it using SnapzPro (for Mac) and then uploaded it into Wordpress. I think they want people to come visit the site, so they don't make an easy way to export the image.

Great ideas for using it in an educational context. You've got me thinking... :)

Elaine said...

So Sarah -- I used a similar tool in my DISSERTATION to help visually show themes from interviews -- Lovin' the tag cloud concept as a way to visualize information. I used tagcrowd.com -- not as pretty as wordle, but gets at a similar point. Cool!

The Sheck said...

Thank Meredith for the tip and for introducing me to SnapzPro...that is a helpful little tool! And I hope we have the chance to talk more about how we could use it in the classroom. Ideas are good things!

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