Monday, October 27, 2014

Visual Language

A couple of weeks ago, a faculty member contacted us to ask for tips to help his students' articulate their ideas in more creative ways. As I responded to the request by suggesting some resources, I realized that in an unplanned way, I've spent some time trying out software and documented my playtime in my blog. I was thus able to refer the faculty member to examples of software and activities I've tried out myself or learned from others.

Here are some older blogposts I've written about my "serious play" with software and activities. I hope they will be of some help to someone:

Online Icebreakers
Oblique Strategies
International Groupwork
Embedding WowSlider in Blogger
Online Art Portfolio Sites
Automatic Captioning & Automatic Timing from Google
13 posts on Second Life, Games & Simulations (dated June 2007)
5 posts on Second Life & Virtual Worlds (dated December 2007)

The rest of this blogpost will focus on two enchanting software I've been fiddling with.

Visual Poetry

I got wind of this tool through #CCourses -- it comes from an interesting resource-rich site for writers (thanks to Kevin Hodgson, @dogtrax, Language is a Virus. I played with the web tool with a stanza from Paul Muldoon's poem*:
I thought again of how art may be made, as it was by André Derain,
of nothing more than a turn
in the road where a swallow dips into the mire
or plucks a strand of bloody wool from a strand of barbed wire
in the aftermath of Chickamauga or Culloden
and builds from pain, from misery, from a deep-seated hurt,
a monument to the human heart
that shines like a golden dome among roofs rain-glazed and leaden.

Image created using Visual Poetry online software.
A stanza of Paul Muldoon's poem, Incantata, was used for this exploration.

Here's how I used this tool to indicate a bit of my emotional response to the stanza.

Muldoon's stanza is extracted from Incantata, written in memory of someone he loved. It is richly descriptive and heartbreaking to read of his recollection of their times together. When I read this poem, I think of my parents. Using the software (you enter the text into the software interface, and use the mouse to outline something; if you have a drawing tablet, that would be greatly helpful!), I drew a sketch -- with my iMac mouse -- to express my longing to see and talk to my parents again someday.

I think of this tool as something a teacher might introduce to her students if she wants them to express writing in a creative and emotionally engaging way. It might seem a tad gimmicky, but teachers can facilitate discussions around students' images. Why did they draw this picture? What were they trying to express? What do the other students see in this picture? These pictures can be embedded in websites, blogs and student portfolios.

A LOT of people are either horrified by or reject the idea of using digital tools that require them to draw, something, no matter how simple :

"I can't draw -- much less draw with a mouse!"

Stick figures are drawings too and you can be very creative with these (see Dharma Comics). On hindsight, I believe I developed a visual language to communicate my ideas over time. Be patient and kind to yourself.


Another fun site that provides free software to make your text interesting is ImageChef. This is the same poem by Muldoon that I've fitted into two templates (limited ready-made templates available on the site but you can create your own symbol to fit text in) -- a panda and a man's silhouette:

How is this helpful and different from Wordle or Tagxedo? ImageChef allows users to include whole paragraphs of text (that are not too long) while Wordle or Tagxedo picks out words that are used most frequently for display as word clouds.  I've used the panda and man's images because I was testing the templates but you can upload your own images/photos to outline a symbol that fits the mood of the text you want to display. A panda doesn't exactly match the sentiments of the poem, but who knows what some students may think of when given the opportunity to be creative?

Till my next experiment then!

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