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Keywords - crowd sourcing search terms


Word clouds can be helpful!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m starting to look at adapting my literature searching workshops for the coming year so they are a little different and more…”me”. One of the things I have been most conscious of is the need to be more interactive in my sessions. Previously they were very much “chalk and talk” type sessions, concluded with a worksheet to reinforce the key points. I have mixed feelings about worksheets. I personally learn better when I do things myself, but they can be a little dull and I think there are better ways to achieve the same effect.

One of the aspects of the search process that seemed to me to lend itself most to some form of interaction is the development of keywords. When I do sessions with students, I tend to emphasise the importance of the preparation time before searching. I suggest that it is best to consider the topic, what databases/resources they should use and then, finally, what keywords they might utilise to find the materials they want. Normally I suggest digging out a thesaurus as a way to obtain alternative terms (or guide them to the thesaurus on PsycInfo), but as everyone will come up with slightly different keywords, I thought this activity would lend itself to a sort of crowd-sourcing activity.

For a while now I have been looking at Mentimeter as a tool to survey students. It has a good basic (free!) model that is fairly flexible (although it limits you to two questions in a session) and enables unlimited responses. There are a number of forms questions can take (multiple choice, rating statements, open-ended etc) and answers are displayed in real-time in a number of different ways. I tend to prefer word clouds as a method for displaying results (the horror of a word cloud!), mainly because I think this is actually a useful way of displaying the keywords chosen (not least because it highlights the popular terms). Visually it looks really effective as you can see all the terms that people have applied in real-time and get a real sense for all the different keywords that can be developed from one question.


Word cloud from keyword exercise with Prof Doc students this morning.

So, I tried it out with some Prof Doc students this morning to see whether it would work…and it did! Whilst there were some (easily fixed) technical problems to start off with, the students really engaged in the exercise. As keywords were appearing on the screen I could hear people talking about the words that came up, particularly noting the ones that they hadn’t thought of considering. In fact so engaged were they in this exercise, that they wanted to find out more about the software itself, how it works and how they can sign up to use it! Of course I pointed out they probably wouldn’t want to use this as their way of obtaining keywords, but it is a good visual example of how you can extract keywords from a particular research topic which can then be incorporated into a literature searching strategy.

Of course, as with all tools like this, it really needs a critical mass of people to be of any value. I wouldn’t, for example, run the same exercise with half a dozen people. When it gets to a dozen or more though (it was about 13 this morning) I think it is a really helpful exercise to engage in. I certainly think that this kind of exercise is better than plodding through a worksheet (although, again, these have their place). I certainly think I’ll be using this software again in future literature searching sessions with students (and other types of sessions too). With undergrads set to be receiving tablets in the coming academic year once more, there is certainly great potential for using this kind of software with a room full of folk wielding internet enabled devices. This morning has certainly encouraged me to further explore this kind of engagement!

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One Response

  1. […] also incorporated the use of Mentimeter as a tool to get students to crowdsource keywords. I tried this a few months ago and it seemed to work really well with the session I delivered, so I’ve decided to […]


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