Sometimes, particularly when it’s raining, I like to wander through as many university buildings as I can on my way to my classroom or office to avoid getting wet. And despite how much has changed since I was a student, I’m amazed to still see professors who set up appointments with their students by pinning a piece of paper to their office doors. We can put a man on a blog, but we still rely on paper to schedule appointments? There must be a better way! In fact, there are several.
One option is an website called YouCanBook.Me. It can be used in much the same way as the strip of paper on the door with 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, etc. written down one side, but with many more features. The most obvious is that none of your students have to physically travel to your door to see what appointment times are available. Appointments are made online and can be synced with everyone’s Google calendars, which each user can then sync to phones, online office calendar systems, other Google calendars, etc. The system can also be set to send email alerts when appointments are booked and to automatically close appointment windows when it’s too late to sign up.
There are other systems out there as well with many of these features and more. If you like something other than ycb.me, leave a link in the comments.
I’ve written about word clouds before, but many more options for visualizing information have become available since my first post about Wordle. Some newer applications include Tagxedo, Tagul, WordSift, TagCrowd, each of which has slightly different features and ways to customize the look of your tag cloud.
Why are these applications so popular? A lot can be gleaned from looking at a text in this format. There are many more complex ways to analyze a text (one of my favorites is Xiaofei Lu’s Synlex, which can analyze a wide range of features from the frequency of structures to the complexity of the text) but word clouds are simple and straightforward.
A great example is the US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud page by Chirag Mehta. It’s based on Tagline, the Timeline-based Tag Cloud Generator that he developed. This is actually a series of tag clouds with a slider bar that allows the viewer to scroll though 200 years of presidential speeches. It’s interesting to see how the most frequent words and themes change over time, something that is very easy to see as you scroll through the tag clouds.
How can students use these tools? The more complex tools, which allow students to target specific features, might be the best option for analyzing one’s own writing. On the other hand, tag clouds would be a better option if a student just needs a snapshot of a text. For example, by feeding a reading assignment into a tag cloud generator, it would be very easy to pick out the most frequent terms and themes prior to reading it — a little like having the text skimmed for you.
Do you use tag clouds and other text analyzers with your students? Leave a comment to share your tips and ideas.
Word cloud of my blog feed.
Word clouds and tag clouds are a popular way to visualize words. The larger the word, the more frequently they appear in a given text. Wordle makes creating a word cloud simple: Just paste some text into the Wordle interface (or link an RSS feed) and the cloud is generated. You can even tweak the color palette, font, and orientation of the words.
How can this be used by an ESL / EFL teacher? I’m still working that out, but it seems like a word cloud must appeal to visual learners. After pasting in a student’s writing passage, what can we learn? If some words are very big, maybe she needs to expand the range of vocabulary used. If very simple words are big, maybe her writing is too simple. Did any words from the academic word list make it into the cloud?
Of course, other texts can also be analyzed this way. Take a look at @iVenus‘s wordle based on program for the 2009 CALICO conference. Gives you a pretty good snapshot of the conference, doesn’t it?
By stepping back and viewing this information visually, we can get an interesting snapshot of the overall text. Why not turn your students loose and see how they use Wordle?
We bought a Wii this weekend. Yes, I purchased 5 Wiimotes months before actually buying the machine they were designed for. The Wii is a brilliantly simple device. So much easier (and more fun) to use than the button-riddled controllers of its chief rivals, which explains why Wiis are still sold out at many retailers.
As the Wii has proven, a simple, usable design is the best design. Most users of most technologies don’t need every possible feature. And, increasingly, they are choosing to not pay a premium for them. Other examples of this trend include netbooks (simple laptops that rely on cloud computing power — see Clive Thompson’s excellent article in Wired 17.03), the XO Laptop (the netbook for the One Laptop Per Child project), Apple’s iPhone (just a touch screen), the Siftables I posted about previously, and now desktop applications themselves.
What gradient map would you choose for your new adjustment layer?
Photoshop used to be a big, expensive application that put a professional photography studio on your desktop. Come to think of it, it still is. But as features multiplied, it became harder and harder to use for simple operations. (Should I adjust the CMYK or RBG levels in this mask layer to reduce red eye?) Enter online photo editors.
cnet recently reviewed 15 of them and I was impressed. All of the basic features I have turned to Photoshop for (waiting 3-4 minutes each time as it boots up) are available, even including layers, masking, and plenty of effects. Most are free and work as simply as attaching a photo to your email message. So, if I need a quick picture for a blog post or my Facebook page, I can turn to one of these sites in a pinch and get some editing done quickly and efficiently. Simpler is better, and now simpler doesn’t have to be bad.