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Wordle as an analytic tool? June 5, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research, TELIC.
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Spent the last couple of weeks reflecting on the results of my research into how pupils perceive learning. Having elected to use a social constructivist grounded theory methodology (no wait, stay with me) it was important to ensure the voices of the participants (students with the cameras) carried through into the emerging theory and final report. One of the ways I hoped to do this was through the use of in vivo codes (Charmaz 2006:55) applied during the process of coding interviews.

In a previous post, I mentioned how Linoit helped me sort, classify, begin to draw out concepts and build a theory from these and other codes. Now I wanted to explore in more detail what different aspects of the theory meant and what implications it had. I thought an old friend might be able to help here, so the in vivo codes were pasted into Wordle to produce the following cloud:

Wordle: in vivo codes

If you know Wordle, you’ll be aware that the larger the phrases, the more regularly they occurred in the original text. It’s interesting to see what the participants ‘saw’ in the images they took of learning. Rather than describing the act of learning, they tend to associate it with specific activities like writing, remembering or revising. Many of the most prominent activities associated with learning appear to be lower-order activities, as described in the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) or at the unistructural (multistructural at best) level on the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982). Should we be worried about that? Are our students predominantly engaged in lower-order activities? Or is it that higher-order activities are hard to capture through the lens of the camera, so we had no images to prompt comment?

I’m also less than comfortable with the prominence of writing, making notes and revising. Is that how they predominantly see their learning? Is writing notes in order to revise for an exam all that matters to students? Or am I allowing my views about learning prejudice my interpretation?

What else does the Wordle suggest? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Biggs, J.B. & Collis, K.F., 1982. Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy, Academic Press Inc.
Bloom, B.S., 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain 2nd ed., Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Charmaz, K., 2006. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis 1st ed., Sage Publications Ltd.

Fluff? April 3, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings.
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A couple of different sources I was scanning through lead me to this post. The first was a blog post offering 3 Ways to Use Wordle  for More Than Fluff, from Ben Rimes the Tech Savvy Educator … which stayed in my mind while I was reading through some of the archive of the purpos/ed campaign. In the latter I caught a(nother) mention of the Government’s Education White Paper 2010, and found myself rather embarrassed that I still haven’t read it.  And then I made the connection!

Perhaps a start might be to link the two things and consider what Wordle might do to begin my exploration of the White Paper. So one download, a Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V later, Wordle delivered the goods.

Wordle: The Importance of Teaching

Only changed the font and layout; no words were harmed in the making of this Wordle. So given the rationale behind the paper:

… sets out a radical reform programme for the schools system, with schools freed from the constraints of central Government direction and teachers placed firmly at the heart of school improvement

it’s no surprise that ‘schools’ figure heavily. ‘Teachers,’  ‘Pupils’ and ‘Education’ are prominent too. However the ‘Where’s Wally’ word was definitely ‘learning‘ – see if you can find it. Yes, that’s it; a long, long way behind ‘Academy(ies),’ ‘performance,’ ‘behaviour,’ ‘qualifications,’ ‘standards,’ ‘funding’ and ‘money.’

Looks like it’s gonna be a great read …

9 out of 10 cats . . . October 28, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in TELIC, Tools.
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As I mentioned in earlier post, we’re starting our second year of TELIC with an examination of learning spaces and what that means for the learner.  By way of introduction we’re analysing a paper – ‘Rethinking the Virtual’ by Nicholas C. Burbules, following an introduction from @GuyMerchant.  People approach this type of exercise in different ways, but we wondered whether some of the visualisation tools might offer a different perspective.  Each of the following accepts free text, then performs some black magic in which some element of visual importance is generated as a result of the frequency of occurrence of a word or phrase.

The popularity of Wordle continues to grow, so that seemed like a reasonable place to start

Wordle: Rethinking the Virtual

No surprises, given the title of the paper, that ‘virtual’ features prominently, but we can also see other patterns beginning to emerge. ‘Space’ is clearly of major significance here, with ‘experience(s),’ ‘sense,’ ‘people,’ ‘time’ and ‘learning’ all clearly important too.  Given that we’re studying learning spaces, this paper clearly has something to offer then and perhaps the other terms imply that the human dimension cannot be ignored.

Many Eyes is an online tool which enables visualisation of both numerical and textual data.  In addition to Wordle, Many Eyes provides three additional visualisation techniques:


The Tag Cloud is similar to Wordle in that frequent words from the text feature more prominently in the cloud.  So the words mentioned above are the same ones which stand out again, however because the words are arranged in alphabetical order, plurals for example (experience/experiences) are more readily seen.  So the word ‘experience,’ occurring more frequently through its plural may now be considered more significant.  Additional features that this visualisation offers are through its interactivity – hovering over a word produces a pop-up which provides some examples of phrases within which that word can be found i.e. some measure of context.Tag cloud

We can also dig down for more detail by making use of the Search facility – from an examination of the main cloud, we can see more words starting with ‘i’ than might usually be anticipated, so we can focus on that area for further analysis.

Tag cloudWe can then go one step further and make use of the ‘2 word’ function which produces a cloud based on occurrences of pairs of words:

And at once see the emerging significance of ‘interest, involvement and imagination’


The Phrase Net produces visualisations based on words linked by a conjunction; some presets are offered, but there is also the facility to provide your own custom phrase.

Having a space as the conjunction between two words produces quite a rich net which shows the words with which ‘virtual’ is closely linked – space(s), environment(s) and learning and how they in turn are linked with other words.  Interesting that the significant words (the ‘i’s) which emerged from the Tag cloud don’t carry the same weight here.

The Word Tree allows us to explore the beyond simple word and phrases, whilst still drawing significance from frequent words.
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Clicking on branches within the tree narrows down the focus and allows to analyse the context within which important phrases can be found.  tree2From the main tree, ‘virtual space and time’ clearly plays an important role, so we can investigate why this might be by exploring the sentences which both commence with and terminate in that phrase.

So what has all this told me about ‘Rethinking the Virtual?’  Well it’s provided some targets I’d want to explore further: the relativistic link with space-time sounds intriguing and the ‘i’ words are clearly important.  The question is though, have I got more from this than simply reading the paper?  Well no, certainly not, but this is a 9000+ word paper which takes some reading. What these tools might be able to do then is to allow significant aspects to emerge more quickly.  A more experienced user would doubtless be able to pull greater detail and richer information than from my tentative exploration.  But textual analysis in this way is, for me an infant discipline.  As such I guess it’s no worse than the often rudimentary way numerical data is presented – 9 out of 10 cats . . . !