Designing a Twist on Active Learning Strategies

Asian woman pointing out information on a laptop during a College of DuPage Poster SessionLast week, I shared a series of active learning strategies focused on design principles, related to a research poster project that students are working on this month. That activity inspired me to consider how I could rethink active learning strategies to discuss design and visual rhetoric.

The result is my new versions of three activities, suited for analysis of a visual document design or a visual artifact (such as a poster). For each task, I explain how the original learning task is used, and then I follow with the prompt that I created for my twist on the strategy.

Active Learning Tasks

Muddiest and Clearest Points

Original: Muddiest-point and clearest-point tasks ask students to reflect on recent information from the class and identify the relevant ideas or concepts. The muddiest point is the idea or concept that the student understands least while the clearest point is the idea or concept that the student understands most fully.

The Twist: Examine the image or document and identify the muddiest point and the clearest point in the visual design. For the muddiest point, identify the place in the visual where the image, the text, or other aspects are hardest to identify and understand. It might be a place where the image is blurred, faded, overexposed, or in shadows. It could be a place where an element is small, cropped off or otherwise incomplete. Once you identify the muddiest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it is minimized in comparison to other aspects of the image or document.

For the clearest point, look for the opposite place, where the image, the text, or other aspect is clearest and easiest to identify and understand. It might be a place that it larger, sharply focused, brighter, or highlighted in some way. Once you identify the clearest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it stands out so clearly in comparison to the other aspects of the image or document.

Four Corners

Original: This active learning strategy relies on the physical layout of the classroom. The teacher sets up a station—with a discussion topic, problem to solve, or issue to debate—in each of the room’s four corners. Students are divided into four groups and rotate through the stations, or they visit only one station and then share the corner’s discussion with the full class.

The Twist: Focus on the four corners of the image or document you are examining. Label them as Top-Left, Top-Right, Bottom-Right, and Bottom-Left. Think about what appears in each corner—text, color, drawings, photographs, shadows, and so forth. In addition to considering what appears in each corner, reflect on aspects such as the size of the elements. Take into account how the content of the four corners relates to the rest of the image or document and how the corners relate to one another. After your analysis of the four corners, hypothesize what the corners contribute to the overall visual design.

Background Knowledge Probe

Original: Background knowledge tasks can take various forms, from freewriting about a previous lesson or experience to a scavenger hunt. The teacher either asks a question that will trigger students to recall prior knowledge about the topic, or the teacher can set up situations that require prior knowledge to complete a task. This strategy tells the teacher what students already know, so she can avoid reviewing information unnecessarily. Further, it helps students recall concepts and ideas that a new lesson will draw upon.

The Twist: Take the idea of a background knowledge probe literally. Examine the image or document, and focus on the background of the design. How does the background differ from the rest of the image or document? Does it complement the foreground? Does it provide a contrast? Is it a simple, blank canvas, or does it add information to the message? Based on your examination of the image or document, explain how the background contributes to the overall visual.

Final Thoughts

Like the active learning strategies that I shared last week, the three active learning strategies above ask students to look at the design of an image or document from different perspectives. By focusing on a specific area of the visual message, students isolate how the various parts of the visual contribute to its overall message.

Do you use active learning strategies in the classroom? How do you ask students to examine the way that visual design contributes to a message? If you have classroom activities to share, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below to tell me about your strategies.

Image credit: See Writing Differently 2018 7 by COD Newsroom on Flickr, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Examining Design Principles through Active Learning Tasks

Open design sampler demonstrating the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximityMy students are beginning research posters this week, so the course is returning to information on effective design and in particular the design principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. In today’s post, I’ll share the active learning tasks I’m using to ask students to recall prior knowledge and give them hands-on work with the design principles.

Active learning tasks ask students to engage directly in their learning process by “involving [them] in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison 1991).

A simplified explanation of this teaching strategy compares students’ minds to sponges and to mechanical gears. Passive learning strategies, such as lectures, treat the student’s mind like a sponge, ready to absorb ideas as it creates a repository of information. It aligns well with Paulo Freire’s banking model of education. Active learning strategies, alternately, engage the student’s brain as if it were a machine made of interlocking gears, turning and churning as it tests hypotheses and creates knowledge.

The series of tasks I describe below asks students to recall what they know about the design principles, to apply the principles through several analysis activities, and to forecast how they will use the principles in their research posters.

Background Readings and Resources

Basic Activity Logistics

The course includes weekly writing and revision activities that students complete individually and in groups. Discussion prompts and related activities are posted as weekly activities. Since I teach a fully-online course, this work is submitted as a discussion post to me in the course management software. These tasks are much like the in-class activities that would be part of a face-to-face course.

The tasks below give you the short version of the prompt. I add more specific details on how to post, share, and reply to one another in the assignments shared with students.

Active Learning Tasks

Design Principles Scavenger Hunt

Go on a hunt on campus or online for a good or bad visual. It can be any kind of visual—a digital sign, a full-page ad in a magazine, a billboard, and so forth. It doesn’t have to be a research poster. Here’s one way to find a visual for this discussion: Find a bulletin board on campus. Stand across the hall from it, and identify the one piece on the bulletin board that grabs your attention.

Take a photo of the visual you find or save the visual if you found it online. Add a paragraph that tells us why it is a good visual or a bad one. Use the ideas from the textbook to support your ideas.

Design Principles Prescription

You are the Design Doctor. Choose a visual from the Design Principles Scavenger Hunt or one that you have found elsewhere, and consider how well the visual uses the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Respond in three parts:

  1. Describe how the visual uses the design principles.
  2. Diagnose the design shortcomings of the visual.
  3. Prescribe solutions that will improve the visual.

Positive Application Task

Choose a visual from a previous project in the course or one that you are planning to use in your research poster. Annotate the visual with details on how you have used the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Label features of the visual with arrows that pair with related descriptions and explanations of the design principles. Use Figure 11.1 on pages 251–52 of Technical Communication as the model for your response.

Research Poster Design Plan

Based on what you know about the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity, create a design plan for your research poster.

  1. Brainstorm a list of ideas you want to emphasize in your poster.
  2. Apply design principles to the ideas, indicating strategies you can use to highlight the content on your poster.
  3. Create a style sheet for your poster, outlining the design decisions you have made. For instance, your style sheet should cover information such as the following:
    • What font and font size will you use for regular text?
    • What font and font size will you use for Level 1 headings? Level 2 headings?
    • What colors will you use on the poster, and where will you use them?

Final Thoughts

These four active learning activities seem relatively simple on the surface; however, they build on one another to lead students to recall how the design principles work and then apply those principles to their own work. What strategies do you use to encourage students to apply composing and design strategies to their own work? Please tell me by leaving a comment below.

References

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED336049.pdf

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (30th Anniversary edition; M. B. Ramos, trans.). New York: Continuum.

Photo credit: The Open University Brand Design Guidelines by DAMS Library, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Great Writing Resources from UNC-Chapel Hill

Recently I needed a resource to help students understand brainstorming. I knew that they generally understood the idea, but I wanted to encourage them to try some new strategies and stretch their invention skills a little. After a few disappointing Google search results, I found myself at the “Tips & Tools” page of the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center site.

There, I found perfect resources to share with students, including a Brainstorming tip sheet and this Webbing video:

I quickly realized that the site had much more to offer. The “Tips & Tools” page features nearly a hundred resources, organized into four categories:

  • Writing the Paper
  • Citation, Style, and Sentence Level Concerns
  • Specific Writing Assignments for Contexts
  • Writing for Specific Fields

The handouts range from ideas on Thesis Statements to basic strategies for working on a Dissertation. Some of the resources focus on general writing advice, such as dealing with Procrastination and Writing Anxiety. Others address topics frequently heard in the writing classroom, like how to use Gender-Inclusive Language and ways to work with Writing Groups effectively.

Perhaps one of the best things about the site is that the handouts are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License. That means, as the site explains in the footer, “You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” If you need a supplement for your class or a specific student, these “Tips & Tools” have you covered.

Have you found an online resource that is particularly helpful in the writing classroom? Please share your recommendations in the comments below. I’d love to see the sites you use with students.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Making Time for Software Instruction

Black student working at laptop outsideFor students to do well in the courses I teach, they have to understand how the course software works. Since the courses are 100% online, the spaces that our course software creates become the classroom where we interact. If students cannot get to those spaces or do not fully understand how they work, they can fail the course.

Given this potential, I make time for software instruction, no matter how packed the course is with subject area content and related work. Generally, I approach software instruction as needed to complete activities in the course. For instance, I talk about how to use banded rows to increase table readability as students work on an assignment that requires creating a table. The software instruction is directly tied to doing well on the activity, so students are motivated to learn the related technical skills.

The challenge is knowing when students will need help with the software that doesn’t relate to specific assignments. Students come to the course with a variety of experience, so I cannot assume that they all need the same instruction. I encourage students to help themselves by linking to the documentation from course materials. Beyond that, I’ve relied on two strategies:

  • Wait until someone asks.
  • Look for patterns that suggest students need help.

In both cases, I either provide a link to the documentation or provide a customized explanation with video or screenshots. These techniques work, but I’d like to do more.

This term, I decided to focus on software instruction from the first day of classes. I gave students a curated list of links to the student guide to the software. Focusing on the commands and tools that I knew students needed for the course reduced the number of documentation links 90%, from 241 to 24 links. No longer do students have to search through pages and pages of information to find what they need—and I benefit from linking to the official documentations, which I don’t have to maintain.

I asked students to read through the entire list. I don’t expect them to memorize the list or click on every link. I just want them to remember there was a resource that listed the main tools they need to use in the course. After skimming through the list, they chose at least one software task to learn more about. I asked students to read the details in the documentation and then try the tool.

For extra points, students could post a reply describing what they found in their exploration. To my happy surprise, the activity yielded 75 replies. Students explored a variety of tools, focusing on whatever interested them. Repeatedly, students explained that they had found some capability in the software that they never knew existed.

Will students remember everything they read? Undoubtedly not, but they do know where to find details on the key commands they need for the course. Since this was the first activity in the course, students and I can draw on it for the entire term. Overall, it seems like a successful strategy that I hope to continue using.

How do you make time for software instruction in your courses? What resources do you share with students? Tell me about the strategies you use by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Photo Credit: _MG_3783 by VIA Agency on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Zombies in the Writing Classroom

Six warning signs, all stating 'Keep Out - Zombie Infected Area'I kicked off Spring semester with some discussion questions meant to work as icebreakers. Two of the prompts are fairly typical: one asks students to talk about an object significant to their careers, and the other asks students to brainstorm characteristics of technical writing based on their experience and observations.

As an alternative to those two fairly customary discussion topics, I devised this third, more playful prompt, “Your Career and the Zombie Apocalypse”:

Imagine that the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. The walking dead are bearing down upon your part of the country, and everyone in the world is working to stop them and preserve life in the world as it was before the zombie awakening. As a way to introduce yourself to the class, write a reply that tells us the following:

  1. your major and career goal (i.e., what do you want to be when you graduate?).
  2. what one thing people in your career can do right now* to stop the zombies.
  3. how that one thing will be effective.

*In other words, this one thing needs to be a capability that your career already has. You cannot make up some solution that does not exist. That would be too easy :)

I’m delighted to report that the Zombies Discussion has been the most popular by far. Even more significant to me, students’ responses are showing a wonderful level of creative and analytical thinking. For instance, one computer science major suggested creating programs that analyze live video streams, comparing appearance and movements to what zombies look like and the ways that zombies walk in order to determine when zombies are near. Not a bad solution, I think. Even better, however, were the replies . One student asked how the program would tell the difference between zombies and people in zombie costumes. Another wondered how the program would differentiate between zombies and people with mobility issues, like senior citizens or people with injuries or disabilities.

Other students have talked about military drone strikes, protecting information systems, security of the water supply, crowdsourcing reports of outbreaks, social media survivor networks, cures and vaccinations, DNA modification, landscape barriers, and more.

Zombies aren’t really my thing, but the success of this icebreaker has convinced me that they have a place in this course. I am even wondering about an all-Zombie section of technical writing. Imagine the assignment opportunities:

  • Technical Description of a Zombie
  • Instructions for Trapping a Zombie
  • Directives for Zombie Safety
  • Zombie Sighting Field Report
  • Zombie Incident Reports
  • Recommendation Report on a Zombie Apocalypse Solution

There are so many options—and a good bit of fun to be had. I swear I would try this next term if we had a way to advertise a special focus section of technical writing on my campus. Who knew that an icebreaker would be so inspiring?

What kinds of icebreakers do you use? More importantly, are there zombies in your writing classroom? Leave me a comment below to tell me about your classes. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: Zombie Zone by Michel Curi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

What Counts as Academic Dishonesty?

Sad Kitten, with its head leaning on its paw, and the caption, What a Cat-astrope! Why did I plagiarize?!Every term, I end up turning in a few students for violations of the Honor Code. It sucks. I don’t like filling out the paperwork. I don’t like the feeling that students try to trick me. The students involved are all definitely unhappy.

The most typical violation has been copying passages from sources word-for-word without any citation—without even quotation marks for that matter. When challenged, most students have responded that they didn’t realize citations and quotation marks were required. I certainly understand errors in bibliographic format. That kind of error is easy to make, especially when citation styles change every few years. It concerns me, however, that students can get to Junior and Senior standing at college without understanding how basic documentation of quotations works.

Given what I have been seeing, I have stepped up my documentation lessons to take on the issue directly. Students read the information on research and documentation from their textbook. In my case, that includes the following from Markel & Selber’s Technical Communication:

  • Chapter 6: Researching Your Subject
  • Chapter 7: Organizing Your Information
  • Part A: Skimming Your Sources and Taking Notes
  • Part B: Documenting Your Sources

I also have students review the resources available on the Virginia Tech Honor System website:

In addition to this basic instruction, I asked students to discuss the intricacies of academic research in the class’s online forum. To get the conversation started, I asked students to read through the questions and answers on the Academic Honesty Quiz from the University of Rochester. After reviewing the quiz, I asked students to consider these questions, noting that they did not need to address every quiz question in their responses:

  • Do your agree with their results?
  • Would you offer a different answer?
  • Are there more options than the quiz suggests? What are they?
  • What would you do if you were the teacher involved?
  • What questions about plagiarism (or other academic dishonesty) do you have that aren’t discussed in the quiz?

Some of the situations in the quiz are relatively straightforward, but others led students to question policy and academic responsibility. The questions related to notes falling out from under a desk and failing to log off a computer in particular resulted in engaged conversation.

I will definitely use this discussion strategy again next term. I may also add some infographic representations of some of the basic principles that students should follow. The textbook and Honor System readings are long and dense. Highlighting some of those points in a more visual format should help emphasis the concepts. What do you do to help students understand the principles and ethics of academic research? How do you demonstrate and discuss documentation? Tell me about your practices or leave a question in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Image credit: Meme generated on the ICanHasCheezburger site.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

What’s the Story in Your Data Stream?

[This post was originally published on September 25, 2012.]

Your average student has developed a significant collection of digital work. There are Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and Flickr and Instagram photos. I’ve been thinking about how to use this collection of artifacts since Antero Garcia reminded me that there is a “huge stream of student data to look for growth in.”

[Photo: text message by sffoghorn, on Flickr]

What are positive ways to use all that data? I’m not interesting in mining that data for indications of what strategies do or do not work. Instead, I’d like students to find their growth and changes in that stream of data themselves. Happily, I’ve found inspiration for an assignment that I think will do just that. I simply need to ask students to look for the stories in their data stream.

Oddly, this idea came to me when I read a story in the Georgia Southernalumni magazine. I’m not an alumnus of Georgia Southern, so I almost threw the paper into the recycling unopened. It only ended up in my mailbox because I have donated to the Graduate Research Network (GRN). Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to skim it in case the GRN was mentioned inside.

Instead, I found a story about Jessica Hines, a photography teacher at Georgia Southern. Hines searched through her own data stream to learn more about her brother Gary, a Vietnam War veteran who took his life. The story from the alumni magazine isn’t online, but you can read more about Hines in My Brother’s War: Professor Acclaimed for Images of War Experience.

Two things caught my imagination from the piece. First, my eye tripped on the title, “Hines teaches students to tell story of themselves through photography.” The grammarian in me either wanted to add the word the, change story to stories, or perhaps both. Still the idea of telling stories with photographs drew me in, since I’ve been searching for multimodal assignments recently.

My interest piqued, I read on and found my second inspiration. Hines talked about her teaching as an introduction to her own search to learn more about her brother:

“I explain to my students that the camera is a device that, by pressing a button, shows them what they are interested in,” explains Hines. “The potential for self-discovery is high if one pays attention.”

What would happen, I wondered, if I sent students off to look through their data stream for their stories with the intention of learning more about themselves and their interests in the process? I knew I had found a positive way to use that “huge stream of student data.”

The assignment I have in mind asks students to look back through their data stream for recurring themes or topics and to compose a text about how their ideas have changed over time. I want them to consider questions like these:

  • Has your interest in the topic or theme deepened over time?
  • Have you slowly lost interest?
  • Have you learned increasingly more over time?
  • What has influenced how you feel about the topic?
  • What have you noticed as you look back at how you’ve documented the topic or theme over time?
  • What stories have you found?
  • What discoveries have you made about yourself?

For now, I’m leaving the medium for the text open. The piece could be a traditional text, but the assignment also lends itself to video, photography, and multimedia compositions. I’ll also leave the places students search for these stories open, rather than limiting the activity to just photographs, for instance.

Finally, I am hoping that I can avoid the Creepy Treehouse effect, since students choose the stories that they tell. They will pull their stories together in an independent piece that won’t require me or the class to visit their private postings. Students will curate the collections only with data they feel comfortable sharing.

In addition to reflecting on their own stream of data, I hope this assignment will also help students learn more about finding and analyzing how images or themes develop in a body of work. The assignment reminds me of the skills that I use when I trace how a poet uses a specific motif through a series of poems or how a novelist develops an image over the course of a novel.

What do you think of asking students to explore their own data stream? Do you have ways to tap the stream of student data? Do you have an assignment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

A Writing Assignment Time Capsule

[This post originally published on November 13, 2012.]

One of my all-time favorite assignments is to ask students to create a time capsule focusing on their writing and themselves as writers. I’m not sure if it’s because of my obsession with archives, my love for scrapbooking, or my fascination with the things that go into writing a text that draws me to the activity. Whatever it is, the assignment helps me learn more about how each student writes while at the same time encouraging students to reflect on their writing and how it changes.

To begin, I explain the basic assignment. The goal is for students to create time capsules for themselves as writers. The audience for the activity varies. I’ve asked students to create time capsules that they will open later in the term or at some point in the future. It can be interesting to do the assignment early in the term and then open the time capsules at the end of the term as part of their final project. I’ve also asked students to create time capsules at the end of a term as a way to reflect on the work that they have done during the course. With students’ permission, I’ve opened some of these time capsules at the beginning of the next course I teach as an overview.

I set up the assignment as early in the term as reasonable. If I wait too late, students may well have discarded artifacts that they would like to include. Most students will understand what a time capsule is, but to be sure, I always kick off the activity with some background. Now that Apple has a back-up solution called Time Capsule, it is crucial to make sure everyone understands what we’re talking about. Wikipedia has a Time Capsule entry, which I use as a basic explanation. I play this YouTube video of the Westinghouse Time Capsule, buried in 1939 and to be opened in the year 6939, to provide a concrete example:

I also share some news articles on time capsules, like these:

The assignment I ask students to complete is not as complex as the time capsules in the news and video nor do students wait as long to open them, but these examples are a good way to review the characteristics important to time capsules. If I have time capsules from a previous course to share, I open them at this point too.

After exploring the examples, we create a class list of characteristics. I like to make sure students understand these details about time capsules:

  • The goal is to show someone in the future what life was like when the time capsule was assembled.
  • It’s not meant to showcase buried treasure or priceless artifacts. Money and artifacts can be included, but they normally are not remarkable treasures at the time when the time capsule is assembled.
  • The items in a time capsule should be long-lasting. They need to survive a long time without decaying in some way.
  • The items also need to be things that will not damage one another and/or they need to be specially packaged so they won’t damage one another.
  • The time capsule can include items that predict what life will be like when the capsule is opened, like letters to a future self or messages to future generations.

I ask students to brainstorm a list of the items in time capsules as well, so that they have a working list of the kinds of artifacts they will gather for their own time capsules. I also review the documentation included with the Westinghouse Time Capsule, and ask students to include similar explanations and reflections with their time capsules.

Beyond these instructions, I like to leave the specifics up to the individual students. They can choose the kind of container and what goes into it. They can include digital artifacts as well as analog materials. I prefer not to dictate requirements like the number of items or the kinds of things to be included. This assignment is very personal, and I want students to reflect on themselves as writers. If I provide a checklist of what to include, the assignment won’t do what I want it to. The only specific item I require is some explanatory, reflective pieces that help identify the items and their importance.

Opening these time capsules is always informative. I learn so much about students every time I use the assignment. It’s tempting too to think about what my own time capsule might look like, as a writer and teacher. If I were in the position to do so, I’d love to ask new graduate teaching assistants to gather time capsules after orientation that they will open at the end of the academic year as part of a final reflection on their teaching.

Do you have assignments that ask students to reflect on the writing they have done in the past? What artifacts do you save from your own writing and teaching? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Convert Handouts to Videos with Lumen5

This weekend, I have been exploring the capabilities of the online tool Lumen5, a web-based tool that you can use to convert any written text to a video. Lumen5 offers to “Transform articles into videos in minutes” on their company website. The end result, Lumen5 explains, is “Social videos made easy.”

How Lumen5 Works

To use Lumen5, you create a project and then begin producing your video. Lumen5 gives you three choices, shown in the screenshot below:

Screenshot of Lumen5 Options for creating a video

As the image shows, the interface is clean and easy to understand. You add the required information by clicking on one of the three options:

  1. You can use an article or blog post by pasting in the link to the document.
  2. You can copy and paste text from any document you have access to.
  3. You can start with an empty video and add text and resources as you go along.

For this post, I am going to focus on what happens when you choose the first or second option. Whether you have pasted in a link or the text for your video, Lumen5 next adds your content to a series of video panes, similar to slides in a slide deck. Each sentence in your content is displayed on a pane. If your sentence is long, it is divided into two panes.

In addition to sorting the text onto the panes, Lumen5 pairs the content with an image (either in public domain or free to use) based on the keywords it finds in the text. For example, if the text talks about writing a paper, Lumen5 will add a photo that shows something related to writing. It might be a photo of a person writing, an image of hands on a keyboard, or a picture of a notebook and pen on a table.

Once the first draft of your video is auto-generated, you can spend time editing the draft by changing the text on the panes and choosing a different image, video, or icon to represent the content. To change the text, you just click on the pane and type. For the images, you choose the media tab, and then you can either search the libraries available in Lumen5 for an image or you can upload media of your own. You can also choose from one of the free-to-use soundtracks or upload your own.

Once you are happy with your video, you click the Render button and wait about ten minutes for the video to process. Once the video is ready, you download the MP4 file and upload it wherever you’d like to share it with your students. Lumen5 even provides a help page on downloading and sharing your video to a various social networks.

A Sample Lumen5 Video

I decided to experiment with a digital handout on my course website that explains the labor-based grading system to students (See Inoue, 2014), paired with a tip-filled infographic on how to do well in the course. The result of my project is the following video:

All in all, I’m quite happy with the results. I spent about three hours on the video, most of which was spent being overly picky about images and the background music.

Constraints of Lumen5

There are some limitations in Lumen5. I used the free version of the tool, which allows you to create an unlimited number of videos in 480p video quality. The free videos do have a Lumen5 logo at the end. If you want to remove that logo or record in a higher resolution, you have to pay a hefty fee of $49/month. For the work that I would do, the free version will likely suffice.

Lumen5 does not allow for voice-over, only the soundtracks as background music. Since the finished video is downloaded as an MP4 file, it is easy enough to open the downloaded file in another program, like Camtasia, if you want to add a voice-over. As there is no voice-over, you do not need to add a closed caption file. All of the text is already on the screen.

Students with visual impairments do need a transcript of the text of the video however. The text in the video is not readable by a screen reader. I created a transcript for my video by copying the text out of Lumen5 and pasting it into a Word document. After applying formatting to make the file easy for a screen reader to navigate, I saved it as a PDF and uploaded it to my own website. Making the transcript took me less than ten minutes overall.

There are some other minor limitations. You have little control over the color of the content on the screen, for example, and it’s difficult to deal with awkward line breaks. Given that the slick tool is free, however, I find these constraints quite bearable.

Final Thoughts on Lumen5

If you are interested in adding some simple videos to your course, I encourage you to experiment with Lumen5. It was a simple enough tool that I would use it with students as well, if you are working on a video assignment. Go visit the Lumen5 website and give it a try; then, please come back and tell me what you think. I’m eager to hear your thoughts about this exciting tool!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Ten Active Learning Strategies Using Word Clouds

Last week, I reviewed several word cloud generators and suggested a few ways that you can use word clouds in the classroom. This week, I am sharing some ways that you can use word clouds in your classes to engage students directly in the learning process. The ten active learning strategies below ask students to move beyond the absorption of ideas typical of a lecture-based class to deep engagement with the ideas and development of relevant content area and critical thinking skills.

1. 25-Word Summaries

With 25-word summaries, students summarize (or otherwise discuss) their reading in 25 words or less. Students must concentrate their ideas and make every word count. Once students submit their summaries, combine them in a single document, and generate a word cloud that reveals the 25 words that students mentioned most. For nonfiction readings, the resulting word cloud can show the main points of the reading, significant facts that are included, and key issues that stand out for students. For fictional readings, the word cloud can reveal significant features from the reading, such as themes and symbols.

The word cloud below is the collected response to the discussion question “What are the main themes in A Raisin in the Sun?” For accessibility purposes, include the table of word frequency, which screen readers will be able to read.

Word Cloud on the themes in A Raisin in the Sun

Word Frequency
family     21
african     16
people     14
dream     10
dreams     10
abortion       8
act       8
knowledge       7
raisin       7
africa       6

2. Icebreakers with Survey Responses

Choose your favorite icebreaker question: What’s your favorite food? What’s the last book you read? What kind of texts have you written in the workplace? Ask students to respond with online survey software, like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter. Both of these tools allow you to present the survey responses in a word cloud, so you do not need any additional software. The cloud appears on the survey website as the responses are added.

3. Directed Paraphrase

Check students’ comprehension by asking them to paraphrase the most recent lesson or activity that the class has completed. Encourage students to put the content of the lesson into their own words, rather than parroting back what they have seen or read in the class. Collect all of the responses in a single document, and generate a word cloud of the most commonly repeated words. Share the cloud with the class and ask them to consider why certain words showed up and why others were missing. Be sure to ask them to comment on how well the word cloud represents the lesson or activity they paraphrased.

4. Prediction

Before students read the next section of an article or chapter of a book, ask them to suggest what they think will happen next. As with other activities, gather the responses in a single document and create a word cloud, which will identify the most popular predictions. Ask students to discuss why certain predications were popular, connecting to the available evidence from the reading they have completed.

5. Muddiest Point

Ask students to write down whatever is most unclear about the lesson, in a word or two, before leaving the classroom for the day. Collect students’ responses and assemble them into a single document, from which you can build a word cloud of the points that most students noted. Open the next class session with the word cloud, and address the concepts that students have identified.

6. Focused List

Build a focused list by asking students to respond to a question about a topic. This strategy can be used to stimulate prior knowledge by asking a question such as “What have you learned about the topic already?” Give students time to brainstorm a list of concepts that they recall, and create a word cloud of the ideas they have shared. Use the word cloud to extend discussion of prior knowledge by asking students to explain the concepts that appear in the word cloud.

7. Version Comparison

As part of a research project, ask students to find two articles on their topic, ideally two that focus on different perspectives. Have students make a word cloud for each of the articles and then compare the two clouds. Specifically, ask which words that the two versions have in common as well as what their most significant differences are. Have students determine which of the most frequently used words communicate facts and which communicate opinion. If there are terms in the word clouds that students have not found elsewhere in their research, encourage them to examine these words further as they relate to the topic.

8. Role Play

Again, set up a survey using online survey software, like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter, but this time ask students to answer from another perspective. In literature courses, you can ask students to answer as they think one of the characters would respond. The activity can be used as a Prediction activity (#4 above) by asking students to predict what someone in a reading might do next or a decision the person would make. For any reading that students complete, they might respond as the author would. If you are studying argument, students can answer as someone on a particular side of the issue might. These role-playing surveys will result in interesting word clouds that reveal how well students understand whatever they are reading or studying.

9. Quiz-Style Games

For this activity, you create the word cloud yourself. You could choose keywords from a text and manufacture a cloud, or paste in the text of a reading to create a cloud. Ensure that your cloud does not include the title of the piece or other words that would make the source immediately obvious. The word cloud above for A Raisin in the Sun would work for this activity. Use the resulting word clouds to quiz students: By looking only on the cloud, can they identify the piece that the cloud represents? Students could work individually or in teams to propose their answers, similar to a game show. This activity would work particularly well as a review exercise before an exam.

10. List-Cloud-Group-Label

With this modification of the List-Group-Label strategy, you can stimulate prior knowledge as you introduce a reading, a unit of study, or a course theme. Write a word or phrase related to the subject area on the board. For instance, if the course will explore popular culture, you might focus on the word popularity or the phrase popular culture itself. Have students brainstorm related words and phrases using online survey software, like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter (or in an open Google Doc). Make a word cloud of students’ responses. Next, arrange students into small groups, and ask each group to examine the word cloud closely. Groups can add or remove words or phrases as well as decide on whether particular items on the list should have been larger or smaller in the word cloud. Once they have considered the words, ask groups to arrange the words into several related subtopics and to provide a label for each subtopic. Have groups present their subtopics to the whole class and explain their arrangement. The whole class can compare the different subtopics that groups have created. Later in the course, after you have begun your exploration of the reading, unit, or theme, ask students to return to the labeled groups of words and consider how well they relate to the topic as it has evolved during the course.

Final Thoughts

As you can see from these ten ideas, word clouds can be a versatile tool in the classroom. They can be used for analysis, description, summary, and more. Perhaps my favorite thing about these uses of word clouds is that the results are always different. Although my classes may study the same topic or readings from one term to the next, the way that they create and analyze word clouds is always unique—and every so often, they reveal an idea that surprises me.

What are your thoughts on word clouds now that you have seen some ways to use them? Do you have additional strategies to try? Would you complete one of these active learning strategies in a different way? Tell me your thoughts in a comment below. I can’t wait to hear from you.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.