Words in the shape of a fruit

I’ve played around with Wordle on a few occasions previously – if I’m honest, not so much because I was interested in finding out frequency of word use, but more because I found it visually appealing. Content was important, but the packaging even more so. No, I’m not really all that shallow; at the time I was playing community manager for the Octopus Facebook page, and discovered that pictures got a lot more likes than just about anything else. My initial reasoning was that those who followed a language school would much prefer useful recommendations to aid them in language learning to pictures of the teachers having a coffee, but that’s a whole other topic.

Anyway. I remembered Wordle while writing a journal entry as part of the online course I’m currently teaching. We use the Mahara e-portfolio, and each unit ends with students reflecting in a journal entry on what they have learned. As this was the first time most of them – possibly all – were using an e-portfolio to keep a learning diary, I thought it might be helpful to record things in my journal as well. I figured it might clarify things in terms of expectations – purpose, tone, entry length, etc., and may also encourage them to be open about what they (dis)liked when they saw that I wasn’t holding back in my reflections. I think that worked, but again, that’s a whole other topic.

So yes, Wordle. I wanted to address the importance of recycling vocabulary in that particular entry – namely, to describe my attempts to get students to revise the 400-odd new vocabulary items over a period of time through interactive activities, as opposed to leaving it up to them to memorize said vocabulary the night before the exam. I ran all the posts from one particular forum through Wordle and ended up with an appealing visual to accompany my Mahara entry. Luckily, some of the key vocabulary from the unit (as opposed to pronouns and conjunctions) made it into the top 100 words – e.g., “dismissal”, “job-seeker”, “welfare” – which meant I was able to work in a little additional revision, at least for those who read the entry. 🙂

Then it occurred to me that I could do the same for the course noticeboard forum. In Moodle, this forum is used only by the instructor in the course, meaning the students can read posts but can’t reply to them. I left a total of 29 posts – on average 200 words in length – in this forum during our three-month course, and suddenly became quite curious about my top 100 words. What had I actually been saying to the students throughout the course?

First I ran all my posts through Wordle and came up with some attractive visuals, but then the next day I came across Tagxedo and, fickle soul that I sometimes am, decided I liked it even more. I won’t go into detail as to why right now, but one of the main reasons was the fact that words could form recognizable shapes, like those of a cat, dolphin or Abraham Lincoln’s face. Ok, sometimes I am that shallow.

This is a visual of the 100 words I used most in the course noticeboard, in the shape of an apple. It turns out these rather more unadventurous shapes are better for presenting the content – if you’re less interested in seeing the actual words clearly, you can go with a reindeer.

taxgedo 101What jumped out at me as I first scanned the apple was the word “don”, just below the stem. I had no idea what it was doing there! If I was urging my students to put on a piece of clothing or warning them about the perils of organized crime, I was clearly inadvertently doing so. What else was I about to find out?! It turned out – perhaps a touch disappointingly – that the program understood “don’t” to be “don”. This would indicate the need to adjust the punctuation settings, something that I can’t remember having to pay any attention to when I used Wordle.

Anyway, the words used most often are “course”, “unit”, “activities”, “topic”, “know”, “feedback”, “posts”, “work”, “page” and “assignment”. I can’t really say that this came as a surprise, because I would have probably listed quite a few of them if I’d had the sense to note down my expectations before Tagxeding the posts. However, it is interesting for me to reflect on the context in which they were used and whether some could/should have made fewer appearances. My post was originally going to include this analysis – it was going to be about the words used, not about e-portfolios or the merits of Wordle vs Tagxedo – but I’ve apparently found it difficult to stick to the topic. 😦 I’m therefore going to stop here and look at the actual word use in another post.