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.
I was tipped off to iCivics games a few days ago and have finally had a chance to check them out. iCivics is “a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy.” There are several games on this site dealing with topics from Supreme Court decisions to immigration to being president for a term.
Each game has lots of information packed into it. For example, in Argument Wars, in which famous Supreme Court decision are re-argued, players must read the case and then choose the appropriate supporting evidence for their side. When the player chooses the evidence, the judge rules whether the argument is legally sound. When the computer opponent submits evidence, the player can object to unsound arguments. This requires not only more reading than your typical videogame, but a lot of critical thinking. In fact, the level of reading required in these games would make it difficult for intermediate ESL students to play them alone. The game does a good job of making the process a fun game by which students can learn more about the Supreme Court.
Will students put down their favorite commercial video games to pick these games up? Probably not. But highly motivated students (and citizens) might use them to learn more about the civics lessons they are learning (or learned long ago) in school. Teachers could use these games with a whole class or have students use them individually or in pairs and report back in presentations, essays, or small group discussions. More advanced students could look at these games critically and try to determine where they are accurate, where they are inaccurate, and where bias may be present. Regardless of how they are used, these interactive texts are much richer than most civics texts and can serve as a useful supplement to them.