On picturing words, tech-mix an old school idea

by | Friday, December 11, 2009


Students in my CEP 818 (Creativity in Teaching and Learning) have been using digital photography to explore a variety of topics related to trans-disciplinary creativity. I hope to showcase some of their work on this blog once the semester gets over. In the meanwhile, I received an email from Michael Hughes, a former alumnus of this course, and a teacher in Jakarta, Indonesia. In his email he provided some links to some really cool work his students have been doing.

At the heart of the assignment is, what he called, an “old school” idea, namely that “students had to define 10 vocabulary words, learn their meanings.” But he added a “tech” component in that the “definitions had to be graphics that illustrated the essence of the words.” How about that for breaking out of the infinite regress of using words to define other words!

Here are some links to work that his sixth grade students have done. Some of the images the students came up with are just wonderful. I have so many favorites that I would be hard-pressed to highlight any of them. Spare a minute and do it yourself.

This assignment works on so many levels. Let me count the ways. First, of course is the fact that students have to truly understand the word to come up with an appropriate picture. Second, engaging in this activity makes the words (which are often quite abstract) “concrete” in their minds in a powerful kind of way. There is of course an interesting paradox here. Words, these black squiggles on a page are often the most abstract form of representation – receiving their strength from this abstractness. The word “eclectic” for instance is a really abstract representation of the idea of eclectic. Making the word concrete in an image gives it a “here-now-ness” that helps understand its meaning. Third, and the flip side of the paradox, the danger of becoming too concrete via images, is undermined by the sheer variety of pictures that students have come up with to represent the same word, (and they are asked to view each other’s work as you can see from the comments on the blog posts). This means that students receive a rich range of possible meanings of a given word, and through that the concrete and unique nature of “an” image is broken down. Fourth, the assignment brings a layer of visual literacy to a standard “old school” purely verbal task, pushing students to think about issues related to the strengths of visual versus verbal representation. Fifth, and finally, putting it online means that this assignment and student works can now be easily shared with others (as Michael did with me, as his students do with each other, and I am doing now via this blog).

To me this is a great example of how easy access to networked digital tools can change transform the most simple of instructional assignments. This to me lies at the heart of the idea of repurposing technologies to make them educational technologies. TPACK anyone?

Thanks to Michael and his students for sharing.

A few randomly selected blog posts…

Using AI to digitally clone myself (AKA creating a Puny-Punya)

Using AI to digitally clone myself (AKA creating a Puny-Punya)

Note: The photo-manipulated image of me holding my own head was created almost 20 years ago by Paul Kurf, a student in my learning by design, class! Image design & layout, Punya Ethan Mollick is a professor at Wharton and he has been doing some of the most...

Presentation/Workshop at Twente

I just completed a presentation at the symposium organized by the Department of Curriculum Design & Educational Innovation, University of Twente. Later this afternoon I will be conducting a workshop on creativity and the TPACK framework. The slides for both the...

Mishra, Nicholson & Wojcikiewicz (2001/2003)

Mishra, P., Nicholson, M., & Wojcikiewicz, S. (2001/2003). Does my wordprocessor have a personality? Topffer’s Law and Educational Technology. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 44 (7), 634-641. Reprinted in B. C. Bruce (Ed.). Literacy in the information...

Multi-national TPACK tour

I leave tomorrow (actually today, given that it is past midnight as I write this) on a multi-national TPACK tour. I touch 4 countries in around 2 weeks!! I am taking a non-stop flight from Newark NJ to New Delhi, for the first time ever. It is a 15 hour flight and I...

(de)Signs, a series on Slate

Slate magazine is running an interesting series by Julia Turner on signs and their design. Two articles are now up The Secret Language of Signs: They're the most useful thing you pay no attention to. Start paying attention. Lost in Penn Station: Why are the signs at...

Appreciate the magic…

Louis CK on appreciating the magic of technology... [youtube width="425" height="355"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOtEQB-9tvk[/youtube]

Webs of activity in online teaching

Webs of activity in online teaching

Space filling web for the word "WEB"(created from the same shape repeated and rotated) I recently received a request (via ResearchGate) for something I had written back in 2004. In looking for it I realized that it had not been updated on my website. So below is...

Too cool for school: Using the TPACK framework

Matt Koehler and I just published an article in Learning & Leading with Technology, the membership magazine of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The complete citation is as follows: Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2009, May). Too Cool for...

Autonomy, mastery, purpose

This presentation of a talk by Daniel Pink has been making the rounds on the Interwebs. I am including it here just as a personal reminder for me to use in my teaching AND as an example of a wonderful presentation style. Check out RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising...

1 Comment

  1. Sean Nash

    Speaking of the selection of image to sell an idea… it seems as if we had a similar affection for the image in this post. It was really weird seeing here on your blog. It’s funny you know… I never thought of how the prolific use of images on my blog might evolve into me feeling something akin to “ownership.”

    Of course I’m not talking about real “ownership.” Though I do revel in the idea that folks from such diverse locations can create words… images… video… schematics… etc., and that by the grace of sharing they can be mashed together to make meaning. That sort of asynchronous “collaboration” just really inspires me. So I obviously don’t own images like the one above. And yet- my selection of that same image: http://twurl.nl/1mmcde (about halfway down) was chosen so carefully that seeing it outside of that post… sort of made me feel as if I were seeing something of “mine” out of context. Spooky and yet cool.




  1. Subversion, literacy & TPACK, new article – Punya Mishra's Web - […] on this blog. The first is from Michael Hughes, a graduate of our MAET program, who had something he…
  2. Subversion, literacy & TPACK, new article | Punya Mishra's Web - [...] on this blog. The first is from Michael Hughes, a graduate of our MAET program, who had something he…

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