Using Word Clouds in Online Discussions to Support Critical Thinking and Engagement


  • Aimee deNoyelles
  • Beatriz Reyes-Foster



Online discussions, word clouds, critical thinking, engagement, higher education


Being actively engaged in a task is often associated with critical thinking. Cultivating critical thinking skills, such as purposefully reflecting and analyzing one’s own thinking, is a major goal of higher education. However, there is a challenge in providing college students opportunities to clearly demonstrate these skills in online courses. This research explores the effectiveness of incorporating word clouds–visual representations of word frequency in a given passage of text–into online discussions. We sought to establish whether implementing word clouds in online discussions would result in a higher incidence of critical thinking and engagement. Survey results from undergraduate participants (n=132) revealed that students analyzing text in word clouds reported moderately higher scores on critical thinking and engagement than students analyzing the text in a linear fashion. A positive relationship was found between critical thinking and engagement, as well as peer interaction. This strategy can be applied to a wide range of educational environments to stimulate critical thinking and engagement.


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Invited Papers / OLC 20th Anniversary Conference Special Issue