You may be quite familiar with word clouds (by Wordle or Tagxedo, although lots more options also exist: thing 1 and thing 2). A whole bunch of text is popped into a word cloud engine and then – boom! – you only get a handful of words (you control the number) which are usually the most frequently used and/or the most important words of a larger text.
Why use it? On the one hand, you can analyze the text for focus or bias. On the other hand, you can fish out the most important words before you read the text (and then upon actively reading it, ascertain that your initial assumptions were correct or have them refuted). Additionally, because it may lead to active reading, the large amounts of text may seem much more digestible and less intimidating and overwhelming. Well, and it looks pretty neat, too.
Additionally, the word cloud may be used a discussion prompt. Not only will it liven up an online course, but having it in a face-to-face classroom will make it a focal point for a class activity. Hmmm… Now you are thinking!
P.S. Wordle doesn’t seem to work well in Chrome, but works beautifully in Firefox or Safari on a Mac system.