Instructional Strategies

Bored Teacher Summer Learning Series - Blogging with Students

It's 8:00 am on a gorgeous Saturday morning in July and I know you are having EXACTLY the same issue I am -- you miss your students!  You are sitting there thinking of ways to meaningfully engage them in the fall and to make writing just a little more meaningful and interesting for them.  Trust me, I'm right there with you!

 

Well, Bored Teacher, start thinking more deeply about ways to have your students write more and have them write more online through the use of a blogging tool.

 

Sound interesting?  It really is.  In fact, it can even be somewhat addicting.  Imagine that; writing can be addicting!

 

What is a blog?

What is a blog?  Well, put simply, it is a website that is regularly updated by an author (or team of authors). Blogs in Plain English.  Although it is six years old, it STILL accurately describes this lasting technology.  As you watch it, think about how this opportunity could impact your students if put in the role of writing the content, not just reading it.

 There are other parameters as well.  Typically, blogs have the newest content at the top.  They also typically have a "feed" or a means of subscribing to them for regular readers.  There is a great video that nicely sets out a working understanding of what a blog is: 

Key Questions

Okay, so we've set the stage.  At least we now know what a blog is.  However, the two primary questions are: 1) Why would I use a blog with my students in my classroom?, and 2) How would I go about setting up a blog?  What tools would I use?

 

Why would I use a blog with students in my classroom?

Well, the "why" isn't a question that we can provide an adequate answer that suits everybody's needs.  Generally speaking, though, blogs provide a couple of important opportunities.

  1. Students have an opportunity to write for a "real world" audience.  That means that anybody in the world, or at least anybody that reads their blog, sees their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and engages with their work in some way.  Compare that with a more standard view many students take of writing, where they feel they are writing for a single or small group of adults, and possibly a few students.  That expansiveness of audience can be an important element for many students.
  2. People might comment back on their written work.  By people, I don't mean a teacher marking the text for "teachery" technicalities.  I mean their fellow students, maybe other teachers, maybe their parents, maybe a partner classroom from across the country/world, or possibly even an outsider who stumbled upon their ideas in a Google search.  This level of exposure raises the bar of accountability for MANY kids and encourages them to give a better effort on their written work than they may have otherwise engaged in.
  3. Their body of work amasses neatly on their blog.  We all understand the power of maintaining a portfolio of written work to reflect upon, to inspire us, and to proudly point to when it comes time to share with others.  A blog neatly organizes student thinking and writing in a way that is searchable, easy to share, and lasting.  It's something to be proud of when you spend a semester or year writing and realize that you have generated and fleshed out a LOT of ideas over the course of your class.
  4. Blogs posts are EDITABLE, so they truly emphasize the process of writing.  This does drive some teachers crazy from an assessment perspective, but blogs can always be edited.  Previous posts that were not well thought out, or ideas that have been further developed can be re-written on a blog.  It's a powerful opportunity for us to share the process of writing over the finality of hitting print and turning in whatever we have done at the time.

Those are just a few key reasons.  If you can think of more, add them in the comments section to this blog post.  We'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

What tools would I use for blogging?

In some ways, this question can be the catch point for many teachers.  They want something that is easy to manage, safe, and valuable to students all at the same time.  Finding the perfect tool that does ALL of these things without sacrificing one of those three for the other is tough.  As is the case with most choices in life, when selecting a blogging platform/tool, there are choices and trade offs to make. Let's see if we can give you some help, though.

 

The primary tools we will look at in this blog are the tools most readily available to students and staff in our district: Blogger and the Blackboard blog tool.

Blogger

Blogger is a Google owned blogging tool (the same tool used to create this very blog) that is available to all students and staff in our district.  The same email and password used for your staff or student Gmail account will allow you to set up a blog with Blogger in minutes.  It is typically very easy to use, used by millions of bloggers around the world, and is directly connected to a wider audience of readers.

 

The advantages to using Blogger:

 

  • Incredibly easy to use.  Teachers will not need to spend a lot of time learning to set up or use the tool, and little instructional time is needed to teach the tool to students.
  • Already works with the Gmail accounts provided by the district.  That means no additional usernames and passwords to recall.  This also provides a safety valve in the event that a teacher or staff member needs to log into the blog for security/safety reasons.
  • Wide variability in the scope of each blog's reading audience with Blogger.  Blogger can be used to publish publicly to the world, or it can be limited to just specific email addresses.  Publish your class blog to the world.  Limit your student blogs availability to teachers and students only.  It's all possible.
  • Commenting is built in to each blog.  This opens the door for feedback, conversation, and interaction between writers and readers.  Commenting can often be the biggest hook for writers as they receive genuine feedback from their audience.
  • Customizable look and feel for each blog.  With millions of users out there, that's a lot of templates and tools that can be added to each blog to change the general feel of the blog.
  • Tech support is a Google search away.  With so many users of Blogger, learning to do ANYTHING with Blogger generally requires a simple Google search to find the answers you might need.
The disadvantages to using Blogger:
  • The blog can be opened to a world of readers, but not all readers are trustworthy or have the best intentions of students in mind. As a teacher, this means you need to have a ongoing conversation with students about Internet bullies, trolls, and appropriate conduct, as well as an action plan that students know and can follow when their blog receives inappropriate comments.  It is ALWAYS recommended that teachers engage with parents about the decision to publish a blog publicly (to the entire world).  
  • Commenting opens the door for inappropriate communications.  Just as with the decision to publish the blog to the world is an option, turning commenting on/off is also an option.  However, commenting is the primary hook of blogging for many students.  Although it is possible for the student to turn comments off, they can also opt for turning comments on just as easily, and they are likely to do so!
  • Students are the owners of the blogs, meaning they are in control of the blog.  Depending on your viewpoint, this may also be a positive as they take on responsibility for their blog.  However, students can make decisions about their blog settings that teachers are not informed of.  While the district has the ability to log into student accounts and make changes, that is an action typically performed by request AFTER something undesirable has happened.  This means students need to be empowered and educated on the proper uses of this platform.
  • Scatter can be a BIG problem for teachers when it comes to blogging.  Each blog has its own web address, meaning a teacher will have a different website to visit for each student assigned to them.  That's a lot of links to follow.  Savvy teachers will use a Google Form (students submit the URL for their blog so the teacher has one spreadsheet with all of the blog URLs in one place) or a RSS Feed Reader (I like this one...Feedreader) where they enter the URLs and each UPDATE is pushed to the Feedreader so teachers are seeing the most recent changes to each blog.  However, this is an extra layer of management that turns some teachers off.

Blackboard Blog Tool

There is another option for blogging in our district in the Blackboard Blog tool.  It truly is an alternative solution with varied advantages and disadvantages from  Blogger.  Generally speaking, it is a more controlled, all-in-one solution to blogging, but it does not offer the same "reach" as Blogger, as readership is limited to student enrollment in the course.  Let's learn more.
The advantages to using Blackboard Blog tool:
  • Blackboard Blog tool is a part of a Blackboard course.  Every student and teacher in the district already has a username and password for Blackboard, and a growing number of teachers are using this tool for placing resources online for student access.  With the flip of a switch, the Blackboard Blog tool can be turned on and active in your Blackboard course, giving the teachers and students a single place to go for both content and communication tools.
  • Blog posts in Blackboard are limited to a SMALL audience -- the teachers and students (and possibly parents) enrolled in the course.  Nobody else.  Depending on your perspective, this can be a huge advantage to blogs that are open to the entire world.  This also eases the concern of some parents who do not wish for their children to publish to a much wider audience.
  • Commenting is built into the tool, but again is limited to only the students enrolled in the Blackboard course.  However, each comment is tracked and teachers can easily see who made each comment and when.  This gives teachers an advantage as they are maintaining accountability in their classroom and teaching commenting/feedback skills.
  • Teachers have a single link to visit to see ALL of the student blogs, comments, and interactions.  This makes assessment of a blog much more manageable.  
  • Blogs can be built into lessons easily.  Using the power of Blackboard, a teacher can organize videos, content, readings, and then ask the students to blog their thoughts and reflections within the context of what was just covered.  This can give the blog assignment/reflection greater value as it flows well within the scope of the lesson plan instead of being an add-on after the fact.
The disadvantages to using Blackboard Blog tool:
  • Audience is limited.  This is a biggie not to be underestimated.  A Blackboard Blog can NEVER be made public to the whole world.  It will always be limited to a small audience of peers within the course.  For some students knowing the world might be reading ups the ante and they take writing more serious as a result.  That will never be an option with the Blackboard Blog tool.  One work around is for teachers to set up a single class blog on which to copy and paste the best student reflections (from Blackboard Blogs) to a class blog opened to the world using a tool like Blogger.
  • Commenting is limited.  This ties into the first disadvantage, but there will never be any surprise responses/comments from readers.  Those are the types of things that infuse excitement and authenticity into blogging for many students.  With a locked down audience, this is nearly impossible to reproduce in the Blackboard environment.
  • Teachers need to utilize Blackboard.  While we don't necessarily feel like Blackboard is a disadvantage, there is a steeper learning curve to learning to use Blackboard over Blogger.  That can take some time.  However, once you learn Blackboard, you'll be amazed at all it can do to make teaching and learning a more efficient process.  It is time well invested.

Learning to Use These Tools

With the exhaustive list of advantages and disadvantages, you probably have some thinking to do.  However, when you are ready to learn to use these tools (and YES, you can try them out on your own without using them with students right away...in fact, we recommend you do),  the next question is simple -- How do I learn how to use these tools?
Well, we have built two playlists with videos that may help you get started.  They have been curated to give teachers a starting point for using these tools.  Once you feel comfortable with getting started, there is no substitute for playing with the tool to really get a feel for how they handle.
So, what are you waiting for?  Let's get started with blogging as a way to make writing a more engaging, authentic experience in your classroom this year!  As always, if you have questions, comments, or thoughts, feel free to contact a member of the SDW Instructional Technology team to share.

Creating Something of Which to Be Proud is a Key to Engagement

A former student emailed me recently to find out if I had a copy of a video project they did during their junior year as a part of a project based lesson I had students do. They were talking about the project with some friends from high school and wondered if by chance I still had a copy as they had lost theirs in a move to college. They were proud of the work that they had done from nearly nine years ago and hoped they could take a look again.Sadly, I did not have the requested copy, but it definitely got my wheels turning.

This morning I put my mind to creating a wooden piece for my boat. By NO MEANS would I call myself a wood worker, but I used all of the patience and know-how I could muster and turned out a pretty nice replica of a broken plastic piece that I can no longer buy. I sent pictures to my wife and dad immediately, and I was just sitting here thinking about some other wood working projects I could do around the house. Needless to say, I'm pretty proud of that work.

It's a long lead in, but hopefully both examples remind us all of that feeling we get when we do something we are TRULY proud of. Often that feeling comes from doing our best on something that we found challenging, maybe even overwhelming at times; something that proved we could do a task we weren't completely confident we could handle.

Thinking back to high school, there are only a few academic experiences that I'm truly proud of. That seems a shame to me. Plenty of extra-curriculars come to mind, but few academic encounters hold that same weight in my memory. Now that I work with teachers, I hope I can inspire some of my colleagues to change that for our students today. The beauty is, it probably isn't a difficult as we might make it out to be.

Content is the Kindling

Teachers who love their content are infectious if they can sell that passion to kids. Even kids who don't love the same content (or any content) are amused by teachers who do. By their very nature, teachers are constantly delving into new topics, ideas, and subjects that can be used as a springboard for a project. As long as the content provides an opportunity to explore, to break out of a mold of everybody doing the same thing, and as long as it (and the teacher) allows students dig into elements of the topic that others may not venture into, the content will suffice. This gives a wide variety of students the space they need to expand and find a niche in topic that others haven't already filled. This matters when you are a teenager and making this consideration for kids will be enough to get the fire started.

Set Forth a Challenge They Can Engage In

Inspiration can come at any time, but the greatest inspirations seem to come as we attempt to resolve an issue we face. When we find a problem or issue that we deem challenging, most people set about the work of solving it both consciously and sub-consciously. We become engaged in the task of resolving that issue. If engagement is what our students lack, perhaps it stems from the idea that they do not see school as a worthy or meaningful challenge. Yes, content can be challenging. So can playing bridge, painting, or learning to dance. It doesn't mean that we all find those endeavors engaging or motivating. Here is where teachers have to use a little bit of their teaching sense!

What are your kids talking about? What do they crave? What might motivate them to stand up and get involved? Is there a local issue they can take on? Is there a way they can have their voices heard? Is there a local group that will rock your students world if they can engage with them (even if the kids aren't aware this group could do so)? The hard part about project based teaching is that teachers have to be flexible and aware of how to engage their students in the project. This means the set up from year to year, or the project, or the audience all has to be flexible. However, the end result has to be the same -- the students have to feel authentically challenged so that they can engage in the problem solving process.

Create Conditions You Can Live With and They Can Overlook

Great teachers understand that they don't necessarily help students to learn; great teachers create the perfect conditions for their students to learn in! This definitely becomes the role of a teacher in a project based unit or classroom. The reality is that teachers have content to cover and need to ensure that students are learning the identified targets. For that reason, teachers have to lay ground rules, create assessments, and determine checkpoints that allow them to do their job. However, teachers also have the responsibility of getting those things out of the way as much as possible. Rubrics and checkpoints wreak of "school" and "grades" and "assignments." They detract from the authenticity of a project and they serve to kill student motivation. Although it is a delicate balance, create conditions in which you get what you need, students get what they need, and the project is still engaging and authentic for students!

Have Students Make Something of Which They Can Be Proud

As I mentioned in the intro, to have students talking about a high school project six or seven years after college suggests that they were truly proud of that work. That depth of pride is powerful, and it tends to spur on even more engagement and passion in future projects.

For many teachers the trouble is the time these products take to complete. Often the end product is itself outside of the focus of the course or content. That trade-off, though, is likely worthwhile if students can commit more deeply to the work they're doing. I struggle to recall a single worksheet, test, or even paper that I wasn't deeply tied to. That is not true of the few projects I was able to complete during my schooling. I remember them well and I remember the content they were tied to. While that is just one perspective, the ongoing adult conversation I have with my friends about school reveals a similar truth for them. Often these projects were self-selected, determined by choices we made as students or a group of students, and had to fit within certain parameters. The investment of time and energy, along with the feeling of pride when being finished, is largely what makes them so memorable.

The more opportunities we can give the students to create something, to get hands on and see a project from start to finish, the more likely they are to be invested in this project, in future projects, and in the whole concept of learning.  That's an important trade-off when you consider what data suggests about our students nationally related to school engagement.

Find an Audience Students Care About

Think back to being a kid, specifically a teenager. What were the things that most motivated you? What were the things that drove you crazy? These are hooks that we can use to encourage kids to engage more meaningfully in school related projects.

One driving force that most teens can relate to is the issue of voice. They want to have a say and how things go and they want to be heard. They want an audience that they care about (unfortunately, this USUALLY does not include teachers)

This should be an essential part of the work we doing a project-based classroom. It is a natural way for students to meet a raised expectation (they are presenting to an audience after all), and it needs a central need that most students have of wishing to be heard.

The challenge for teacher in a project-based classroom is finding that audience. That is the beauty of technology used appropriately in our classrooms. It breaks those walls down and makes anybody in the world a potential audience member. Start dreaming about potential audience members.  Chances are likely if you can dream it, you can probably find it!

 

This may seem like a tall order, but remember, the work for teachers is generally done in the planning stages.  Then the students take center stage and do the heavy lifting (as they should -- the workers should always be doing the majority of the work).  The dividends this project based approach to learning will pay far outweigh the time and "risk" put into trying something new in your classroom.  Trust me from experience on this one -- nothing feels as good as knowing your students were so deeply engaged in learning that they are still talking about it years later.  That's the experience every child should be able to have while at school!

Moving Beyond Substitution: Innovative Use of Book Creator Climbs SAMR Ladder

If somebody promises gains in student achievement as a result of the purchase of 1:1 computing devices or of introducing an app in your district/classroom, it's fair to say they may be feeding you a line.  However, when a teacher shares an educationally relevant, SAMR climbing use of that same tool or app, pay attention. Student achievement is likely to follow!

Recently a teacher in my district, Emily Hernandez, shared one way she uses the Book Creator app for iOS that pointed to an educationally relevant, instructionally appropriate use of the app.  If you are not familiar with Book Creator, it is a way to develop interactive, multimedia-incorporating ebooks/iBooks on the iPad.  It is a simple, easy-to-use app that could very easily be overestimated due to its apparent simplicity.

Ms. Hernandez, though, saw the potential in the tool because she dared to think differently about how her students would utilize the app to demonstate knowledge in her foreign language classroom.

Foreign language students need to demonstrate a wide variety of language acquisition skills, measured primarily through their ability to write and speak the language.  This is traditionally assessed via written works and through the use of conversation and oral presentation with classmates and instructors.  

In Ms. Hernandez's application of the Book Creator app, she was able to utilize these two assessment techniques to demonstrate the students' knowledge to date.  Through the use of written text in the eBooks students created, as well as through the ability to record audio and place audio files into the eBook (a feature built into Book Creator), Ms. Hernandez achieved Substitution by having students do something they had always done, only now using technology to do it.

She climbed the SAMR ladder another rung, though, through the meaningful incorporation of audio, images, and written text into a singular demonstration of learning.  Using the medium of a "published" eBook as their palette, students were being asked to provide written text, were asked to record and supplement that written text with an audio version of that text, and were able to incorporate meaningful images that supported the key themes and messages of their eBook.  Here the teacher was taking advantage of the benefits of the technology built into the Book Creator app, as well as the student's pre-conceived notion of a more professional level of communication in a published book, to gain efficiency and to add authenticity to the demonstration of learning.  This is clear evidence that Ms. Hernandez had now achieved Augmentation on the SAMR ladder in her use of Book Creator.

As we move into Modification, it is important to understand that the key focus must be on how the teacher changes the lesson design or demonstration of learning to take advantage of the functionality and efficiency the technology provides.  Ms. Hernandez decided to make student reflection a key component of this project, allowing students to continually reflect on their "performance" based upon teacher feedback to inform their future learning.  In her lesson design, she allowed students to return to the eBook to make changes prior to final publication. 

The stroke of genius that Ms. Hernandez conjured was in using AirDrop and/or Google Drive (both export functions are natively available in the Book Creator app), functions that allowed the student to share the "draft" of their eBook with the teacher, as well as the audio recording function of the Book Creator app, to provide that feedback.  As students shared the draft of their eBook with the teacher, the teacher reviewed it on her iPad in the Book Creator app, added a page for audio feedback in which she spoke her feedback to students, shared it back with students using the same AirDrop/Google Drive method the student selected, and then allowed them to continue working. While that feedback could have just as easily been spoken to the students in class, the ability to use Google Drive and audio record provided four key advantages.  

 

  • The students could work on the rough draft of the eBook at any time and "turn in" that draft as soon as they were finished.  Ms. Hernandez could do the same with the feedback.  This creates an ability to provide just-in-time feedback to students as they meet natural finish points, not just on a once-size-fits-all, pre-determined collection date.
  • The feedback was recorded, meaning that both the students and Ms. Hernandez had a record of the feedback provided.  This becomes valuable to the students as they make suggested changes and alter their final product, and it becomes valuable to the teacher as a way of measuring growth from previous iterations of a similar work product.
  • Through the drafting process, Ms. Hernandez reinforces the concept that language acquisition is about a process of learning and growing, not a unit of study that is explored and then completed or forgotten.
  • Students create a lasting product that demonstrates their understanding at a given point in time.  This can be posted to an electronic portfolio, shared at conferences, or later revisited and revised as the students grow in their language acquisition.

 

Ms. Hernandez's work should be applauded, as it is an incredible reminder that the simplest of tools, used in meaningful, thoughtful, and creative ways, can really transform the way that our students perceive and experience the journey of learning.

YouTube Offering Free Audio Tracks; Aids Users in Following Copyright

Many of us have wrestled with the questions surrounding what constitutes educational use of media as it relates to copyright.  While it is important for each of us to come to an understanding of what is appropriate fair use and what isn't in the world of copyrighted material, it is just as important that we begin to have discussions about copyright with our students.

As students publish more of their work for a larger audience, the discussion about copyright becomes a non-negotiable point of instruction that every educator must address.  However, our own misinformation about copyright makes that conversation a difficult one to lead and to provide definitive advice to students on.  

One resource I particularly appreciat for its simplicity and definitive answers, along with their offerings of pre-formatted lessons on teaching copyright to students, is the Teaching Copyright website (http://www.teachingcopyright.org/).  The site isn't filled with so many lessons that you can't manage it all.  In fact, the lessons and resources are incredibly direct and to the point -- something that those of us who don't love talking about copyright but know it is critical will appreciate.  I'd encourage you to take a look, if only to further inform yourself as an educator prior to engaging in a multimedia project with students.

However, another key to the copyright conversation is helping students to find resources that are marked for full use because they are royalty free or have been given a Creative Commons copyright distinction.  There are increasing libraries of these kinds of resources out there, but one notable service is now offering 150+ audio tracks that are free to download and use in media projects because they are truly royalty free!

YouTube recently announced it's expansion of a library of royalty free downloadable audio tracks.  The tracks can be searched by genre, mood, instrucment, and track length.  It's a great starting point for students to consider as they are looking for just the right feeling in their media project audio.  It also allows educators to enter into the conversation about how audio tracks contribute to or detract from the meaning and personality of a piece!  What a valuable lesson to engage in.  Best of all, you can be certain that as your students share their project with the world, at least the audio portion of the project is safe to publish!  

If you are interested in checking out the YouTube library, it's available here: http://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary?feature=ctsbs

A Teachable Moment: Helping Students to Understand Permanence of the Digital Age

Surprised parents and staff members have been emailing me this week with a concern.  Googling the keywords of our school district's name provides some information about the district along with an image that represents members of our student body, but not in the positive or academic light most of us might hope.

 

While there is a larger issue here of the district being improperly and unfairly represented in the public eye (we are presently working on a solution to this issue as we want the district positively and accurately represented for the meaningful teaching and learning that happens here), there is something we can use in this event to assist in a meaningful conversation with students and families.

 

With services like SnapChat and Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, sharing with the world is easier than ever before.  Especially with some of these services, but true for all, users often confuse the ability to instantaneously share with the world with the appropriateness of doing so.  Add to that the sense of anonymity, the tidal wave of information that is being shared worldwide (as in "everybody is doing it"), and the false "promise" of the information existing only in the short term (services like InstaGram allow users to post to the world, but in very short intervals, as in 10-15 seconds, before the post is removed).

 

However, as so many of us are aware of, the truth is that once data is captured and posted in a public forum (and the Internet is a public forum), even if only for a few seconds, the potential exists for that data to live forever.

 

This is exactly how the image that presently represents our district in a Google search (not a decision consciously made by anybody in the district, by Google itself, but simply a result of an algorithm written and a change in the way Google presents information for ease of viewing), an image of some young people captured in a dance position while at a school dance that may have made them blush had their parents been present, came to be.  It seems to have been captured and shared online, likely by a student interested in updating others on the fun of the evening.  It probably didn't get much attention immediately.  However, it was picked up in a story by a local news outlet about the appropriateness of student behavior at dances (not just our students...students across the area).  That seems to have gained some traction with viewers, and the image has been viewed many times by many people.  That moved the status of the image up in Google's search rankings.  When the Google Knowledge Graph was created and launched publicly, the ranking of that image, coupled with the search term of our school's name, resulted in the "marriage" of the district's online reputation with a student's behavior at a moment in time.  Something the students likely had not considered or even imagined in that moment.

 

As unfortunate as any of this may be, there is a teachable moment in this.  In a digital world, our actions (both online and in real life) do not have the promise of privacy.  While we may (or may not) disagree with this reality, it is still, in fact, a reality.  This week's headlines about the availability of private digital data possibly available to government entities supports this reality.

 

Students need to hear that message -- in a digital world, our actions (both online and in real life) do not have the promise of privacy.  They need to be engaged in the conversation.  They need to consider how that information may positively or negatively impact them in the present and in the future.  These are all meaningful discussions that we, as educators, cannot be afraid to engage in.  Even if we are not technically savvy enough to know all of the latest digital tools, sites, trends, and methods.  We have life experience enough to talk about the value of students holding themselves to a standard that they (and their families and communities) deem appropriate.  We have life experience enough to talk about how decisions made in a weak moment today can forever impact our futures.  This doesn't require knowledge about technology -- let the kids bring that knowledge and experience to the conversation.  Instead, it takes us actively talking with kids and caring about their lives today, and in the future.  And we do care!

 

That is the teachable moment in this.

Using Tagxedo to Visualize My Blog and Twitter Themes

When I was first introduced to tag clouds, I thought they were interesting, excellent for pulling themes from longer works (trying putting text from an entire chapter of a novel into a tag cloud generator...it is so interesting to see the results), great for analyzing redundancy of word use in original works, and it has some other unique niche uses.  

One benefit I'm finding, though, as I publish and share more work digitally, is that the tag/word cloud generators give me a great idea of what I'm thinking (and writing) about.

I recently used a word/tag cloud generator called Tagxedo to evaluate the themes of this blog, Getting Tech Into Ed, and I combined that with my tweets for @brianyearling.  I think the results are so telling of what has been on my mind over the past few years.  It also made me think about how something like a digital portfolio and blog that a student produces for academic purposes could be turned into a wonderful reflection tool when it comes to a freshman or sophomore conference to determine next life steps.  Perhaps the use of a tag/word cloud generator could pull some beginning themes out of what they've studied and written about that could influence the conversation and give them some ideas upon which to reflect. The same is true of an end-of-year conference with a teacher, a student-led conference, or just a reflection on a whole class blog.  

The tool I used that produced the results below is www.tagxedo.com .