The Power of Visualizing Information: Reflections on ed reform

This post talks about how wordle can be used to rethinking and visualize the main ideas of reading. Examples from “A Nation at Risk” and “A Blueprint for Ed Reform” are used.

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The amount of blogging time I have is pretty much 0-2% these days.  After work, I devote my idle hours to doctoral studies and family (and sadly in that order some days).

One thing about graduate work is the volume of print reading has not changed since I was in my Master’s program in 98-99. Darn. Synthesizing lots and lots of text quickly is a challenge for anyone.  As a teacher educator,  I am always demonstrating the use of certain tools to help organize and visualize text and data for k12 students.  So wouldn’t it be a novel idea to actually use some myself? I imagine anyone reading this might be saying –well golly yes– you just realized that?

I’ve been using Wordle a bit more to validate (or invalidate) perceptions of readings, especially articles that I have read before and already have formed strong value statements about. In my summer Historical Perspectives on Education course, we were assigned the classic A Nation At Risk report from 1983. I was feeling a bit more sour than usual about ed reform.  Chatter in the online discussion of my course turned to a bit of griping that not much has changed in our reform rhetoric since 1983. After completing a Worlde for #edchat this morning, I began to wonder if perhaps Wordle could help me see and perceive our impressions of a Nation at Risk differently, especially in comparison to a current policy document? If our class believed nothing had changed, we should see more similarities than differences between the two. In my mini-experiment I selected the recommendations section from  A Nation At Risk, and compared it to the recommendations of the recent  Blue Print for Reform for the reauthorization of the ESEA. Here is what happened:

Wordle Recommendations Section from a Nation At Risk (1983)
Wordle: Recommendation section from a Nation at Risk

Worlde Recommendations from a Blue Print for Reform (2009)
Wordle: A Blue Print for Reform --Priorities Summary of ESEA Reauthorization

I haven’t had chance to do a comprehensive analysis of each Worlde. Here are just some quick reactions:

  • That students were the most commonly used word in both reports. While we may not agree with the rhetoric in one or both of the documents, students are clearly at  the center.
  • Support is a huge theme in our current ed reform rhetoric and it was not even on the map in At Risk.
  • A Nation At Risk is  focused on k-12, with emphasis on teachers and students and preparing teachers.
  • Blueprint expands our thinking and focus; administrators and districts are mentioned frequently. Mentions of parents and community also appear.
  • Teachers are integral to both reports. But, the focus on teacher preparation through universities in the At-Risk report is not the core focus of the Blue Print recommendations.
  • Hmmm where did learning go in the Blue Print?
  • In the Blue Print, schooling is focused on preparing us for college, not just successful graduation from high school.
  • At Risk focused on the “Basics” that students need to master.  Standards appear to be our new basics.
  • Content based knowledge mentioned throughout the at risk. New reform rhetoric focused more on accountability and performance.
  • Heavy focus on nationalism in At-risk and national status.

I am glad I did this little exercise. We are inundated with so much information online, I know I am scanning my content more and forming assumptions and opinions quickly. While I didn’t walk away thinking “Wow, we’ve really changed! Reform now is soooo much better,”  it helped me clarify my thinking and even rethink how I approach discussing this with my classmates.  Even though I had read At Risk many times,  there is something intangibly powerful about visualizing the main themes of the text in a new way.  And, because I am not getting any more free time to read,  I did as I tell my teachers to do with their students: I stepped back, utilized a tool designed to assist and enhance  my understanding.

For any readers out there; do you ever Wordle, or use another tool, to help you with our own personal work and learning? This little exercise got me wondering about how often as educators we use the same tools we give our students for our own personal learning and reflection?

Author: rpetersmauri

Eternal student. Previous research director at edX.org. Engineering online experiential learning environments at Northeastern U, teaching learning analytics at Brandeis U.

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