By Amy Erickson
I understand that educational technology can feel overwhelming at times. Instructors are surrounded by information on new programs, apps, and tools to assist students. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to Madeline Craig’s article in the December issue of Online Classroom called “Three Tools for Improving Student Work.” Three is a manageable number, and I think you’ll agree that these three are worth the introduction.
Using Word Clouds to Enhance Writing
Before reading this article, I was unaware of the term “word cloud.” If you’d like to see an example before reading any further, Craig (2016) offers the following word cloud resources: Wordle, ABCYa!, WordItOut, Tagxedo, Jason Davies or Tagul (para. 2).
As you can see from these examples, word clouds take a piece of writing and sort of digest it and show frequently used words. “The benefit is that seeing the most common words in a source often provides insights into major themes in the work that can help guide the students’ own analysis and work” (Craig, 2016, para. 2 ). Craig (2016) therefore recommends using word clouds to get students reading and thinking about material before they begin writing about it. To get an idea for how this would work, I found a research article on the effect of dairy products on bone density. I entered the article into Word it Out, and was given the following:
Craig (2016) feels this resource encourages students to consider the content before they start writing. If students are being asked to compare and contrast two pieces of work, a word cloud may make an interesting addition to the pre-writing process. Using word clouds may also prove to be valuable for assignments requiring students to synthesize material from multiple research articles. Craig (2016) observed an improvement in her students’ writing after integrating word clouds into assignments. If you find your students are routinely offering vague statements about the material at hand, consider integrating word clouds into the pre-writing process to improve the level of analysis in your classroom.
Although reading one’s work aloud is helpful, Craig (2016) encourages the use of talking avatars to read students’ work back to them. There are several sites that allow students and instructors to use avatars such as Voki or Tellagami. Craig (2016) also uses talking avatars for announcements and to check in on discussions. An instructor can choose from a wide variety of avatars, accents, and backgrounds to have fun and add personality to their material.
Collaborating with Padlet
I have used Padlet in the past, but it has grown and developed significantly since I last used it. Padlet, is “a digital whiteboard that allows you to post text, documents, images, and videos” (Craig, 2016, para. 5). Although it has features to encourage “feedback, discussion, blogging, brainstorming, sharing ideas, and assessment,” I’m interested in the features that are coming soon to Padlet (para. 5). For example, instructors will soon be able to create student reports and view analytics surrounding classroom Padlets. If an instructor can see who is skipping the material, it may allow them to intervene and help a student before getting too far off track. Keep your eye on this resource as it continues to grow and develop!
A Word about Technology
These resources are fun to use and they offer engaging ways for students to connect with instructors and course content. However, remember that our students are not all tech-savvy Millennials. Build in extra time to educate students on these resources and consider creating easy-to-follow directions. Some students are already intimidated by an online classroom, so you don’t want to overwhelm them with too many additional tools, apps, or websites. Take your time, do the research, and select the most user-friendly materials that promise the best results for your students.
Craig, M. (2016, December). Three tools for improving student work. Online Classroom. Retrieved December 1, 2016 from http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/online-classroom/154/Three-Tools-for-Improving-Student-Work-14305-1.html
Thorning, T., Rabgen, A., Thorning, T., Soedamah-Mathu, S., Givens, I., & Astrup, A. (2016). Milk and dairy products: Good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence. Food & Nutrition Research, 60. http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v60.32527