Okay, I know that Wordle is older than flash mobs but for me, it is as fresh as ever.
My recent infatuation with Wordle is linked to my work in developing programs, curriculum, pedagogical principles, mission statements and so on. With all of this work, the way we communicate content is incredibly important. Perhaps the most satisfying aspects of developing these types of documents is that they are usually created with high levels of collaboration and consultation.
However, one of the things that is tricky about collaboration is that participants often tire of the endless circulation of paperwork, or committee meetings dominated by re-reading past work. It is easy to spend a lot of time catching up on where the group last left off or getting lost in debates over the semantics of a particular sentence or word. Enter Wordle.
While the beautiful ‘word clouds’ created by Wordle need to be taken with a grain of salt, this website allows us to easily step back and take stock of what we have created. It helps to review where we are coming from and where we are going to – what does our current mission, program, curriculum, or other documents emphasize? Is that what we want to emphasize? Consider the following examples:
Perhaps one of the best known examples of a mission statement change was the switch the March of Dimes made in 1958 away from Polio towards birth defects in infants. While both the old and new mission statements are easy to read, the difference between them has particularly strong visual impact when presented in a ‘word cloud’:
The Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Education recently updated a number of the curriculum documents for the K-12 school system. One of the clearest shifts in content came with the introduction of the 2007 Grades 1-8 Science and Technology curriculum. These word clouds could help us clearly see a consistent emphasis on students, energy, water, technology, and investigations (‘investigate’). However, we can also see an increased emphasis on environment; a decreased use of the words ‘describe’ and ‘identify’; and an increased use of the the ideas of ‘understanding’ and ‘expectations’. There is also a notable disappearance of the word ‘grade’. If one were involved in the process of rewriting this document, it would be interesting to go back to the development team and ask if this shift in emphasis was, in fact, their intent. If not, perhaps it merits taking a second look at the language used in the curriculum guide.
3. Comparing programs
I have recently been working with the residential team at Lester B. Pearson United World College (where I am a faculty member) to think about how we approach our residential learning program. To help provide some colourful inspiration to the team, I compared a Wordle using the current description of our residential learning program with that of Michigan State University’s residential learning outcomes. This was a quick and easy way to think about the different aspects of our program that are being emphasized in our external documentation. It also quickly generated some visual stimulation using an institution that seems to share several similar learning goals with us.
Wordle does not allow us to completely evade the elbow grease required to write documents that truly express what is most important to us. It certainly does provide a wonderful form of stimulation and perhaps a light moment at the beginning of what could otherwise be a tedious start to a meeting.