Visualizing Yeats’s “The Tower”

Yeats "The Tower" Word Cloud





Voyant is a data visualization tool that allows users to input data, which it then converts into word clouds, frequency graphs, and a few other formats. Users can then save their searches in several exportable formats. The link to get started is

Here are some sample links to poems from W.B. Yeats’s volume The Tower. I encourage you to try uploading one or more of the poems into Voyant to see what you find.

“Sailing to Byzantium”:
“Leda and the Swan”:
“Among School Children”:

I created a word cloud for the full text of The Tower, which can be found here:

Here is a link to the full data visualization results that I received from Voyant. From this word cloud, you can click on any word to open up an in-depth analysis and gain access to additional information:

Basic user note: Voyant initially generates its data with every word included. As a result, “the” is almost always the most commonly used word. To change this, after your results are generated, click “Options” in your word cloud, then, on the pulldown menu, choose “Taporware (English)” and OK to eliminate commonly used words like “a,” “an,” and “the.” Beware, though, because it may eliminate interesting words, like “his” and “her,” which are important in considering “Leda and the Swan.”

I also encourage you to visit the National Library of Ireland’s exhibit “The Life and Works of W.B. Yeats.”

Getting Smart with Smartphones

As part of a regular lunch series that my university hosts on issues related to technology in higher education, a panel of students was invited to talk about how they use technology both in and outside of the classroom. The students were articulate and thoughtful. They talked about how difficult it is being apart from their smartphones, how Google calendar keeps them on track because their days are scheduled down to the minute, and how they enjoy keeping up with friends and family through texting and Facebook.

And then they said something surprising. When asked about their thoughts on using smartphones in the classroom–as clickers, web browsers, note-taking devices, etc., they said “please don’t give us that temptation.” The students claimed that they did not want to be allowed to have their phones out/on during class because they couldn’t promise that they wouldn’t look at texts that came through, and then they might not be able to stop themselves from texting back. And from there, they realized, it’s a slippery slope to Facebook, Twitter, and email. And all of a sudden, they’ve lost track of what is happening in the class.

My first impulse was to applaud their self-awareness. Good for them for knowing their weaknesses and asking for help from their professors; after all, professors and administrators face the same challenges and are no better at resisting the temptation of a text or an email while attending a meeting. Yet we don’t like our students to use them because phones are distracting to the class and to us.

But then I got to thinking about our responsibility to our students. It’s certainly responsible to want to create a distraction-free learning environment –we try to eliminate things like tardiness, ringing phones, and sleeping classmates, so why not help students concentrate by asking that cell phones remain out of sight?

Because policing their use of technology in the classroom may be doing them a disservice. Not only do they miss out on the technology that can actually help them focus, like clicker technology, Evernote, and Twitter, but they also lose the chance to begin policing themselves by developing strategies for dealing with these distractions. Graduation does not magically mean that a person will become immune to technology-related distraction, and we might as well begin teaching them methods of dealing with it.

Plus, does a smartphone offer distractions that are not available on a laptop or tablet? Are we going to ban all technology from the classroom? Let’s say that we did. Do students really need technology to be distracted? My college notebooks full of doodles and thoughts unrelated to the many lectures I attended suggest that they do not.

So what do we do when students ask for a ban on cell phones? Do we jump for joy at the request to focus all attention on our classes? Do we take a middle of the road approach, banning them in our syllabi, but not enforcing it on a daily basis? Or, do we start creating pedagogically sound assignments that ask students to engage further with this technology, and allow them to join our struggle, hoping that they will help us figure out a solution?