Word Clouds in Education

imageOn Sunday morning last, those of you who tweet might have noticed a new hashtag appear with prominence in the twittersphere: #savewordle. Wordle, an online application (available at http://www.wordle.net) for generating ‘word clouds’, had been taken down and the founder, Jonathan Feinberg, had used the homepage of the site to appeal for “pro bono legal advice, to evaluate a trademark claim against [his] use of the word ‘Wordle’ for this web site”. Thankfully, the Wordle site had returned to normal by Sunday mid-afternoon and is functioning normally since (Feinberg appears to have secured the services of said pro bono lawyer). The very audible (in cyberspace terms at least) outcry that arose while it appeared that this site might be closed for good reminded me of just how useful Wordle and word clouds in general really are.

Word clouds work by assigning greater prominence (using size, colours, etc.) to words that appear more frequently in the source text (which is usually simply pasted in to a form on the site, although some word cloud sites will allow you to tap into Del.icio.us and RSS feeds). In recent times they have become popular on blogs and websites as a way of graphically representing how often keywords or ‘tags’ appear for articles on that site. Word clouds which have been produced with Wordle can be tweaked with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes, and the finished clouds can be printed or saved to the Wordle gallery (and from there, embedded into websites, blogs, VLE pages, etc.). Word clouds provide a graphical, non-linear form of presentation to illustrate patterns, repetition, etc in text which are often not entirely obvious from reading it in paragraph form.

Wordle is one of those applications that is a lot of fun to use and play with, but sometimes the wide range of educational uses for it might not be all that obvious. So here are a few links, packed with suggestions, to help you out with this:

And on the off-chance that Wordle does disappear (permanently this time) from our screens at some stage, here are some alternatives to check out: Tagcrowd, ABCya! (particularly good for clours and colour schemes), Tagul (this one has a particularly nice ‘mouse-over’ feature) and Imagechef (allows you to ‘shape’ your word cloud using a number of pre-defined shapes).

Word clouds are extremely useful and as you can see from the above links, there are many applications for them in an educational context – in the words of one author, as many uses for word clouds as there are clouds in the sky.

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