(Un)Controlling Vocabulary


Overview: Students focus on the language used to describe books, articles, and social media posts in order to reflect on the ways we access information (and the ways we are denied access).

Note: This assignment can be completed in conjunction with a larger research project, such as the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.

Students focus on how language is used to organize information in three formats: print sources, websites, and social media.

Print Sources: Students curate a WorldCat List of books and journal articles related to their topic using WorldCat Local, assigning tags to each item to describe and organize sources.  They use a word cloud generator to make two clouds: one displaying the  assigned to their books and articles, and one displaying the tags they made for the same sources (see below for examples.

Websites: Students conduct Google searches using terms from each of their word clouds.

Social Media: Students use hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, and additional social media sites to search for user-generated content about their topic.

Reflection: Once they have searched for and located information in each of these formats, students write a reflective blog post about their experiences.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Students will identify parallels and discrepancies between information in digital and traditional formats in order to reflect on their existing digital practices, critique established systems of information production and organization, and develop strategies for adjusting to a continuously evolving information environment.
    • Students will locate and collect relevant sources in print-based formats using WorldCat Local and library databases.
    • Students will compare ways of describing information using controlled vocabulary and natural language.  This exercise will allow them to develop strategies for effective research using traditional research while simultaneously critiquing established systems for organizing and accessing information.
    • Students will compare the processes and results of research using resources from the library, the open web, and social media.


Students will need to create a WorldCat account and use WorldCat to search for books and articles and create a list.  They will also need to use a word cloud generator, such as Wordle, to create two word clouds, and social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram to search for hashtags.



L: Controlled Vocabulary, R: Natural Language. Both sets of terms are for items on this WorldCat List: http://cnu.worldcat.org/profiles/lauren.wallis/lists/3542058


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