“The paradox of education is that it attempts to foster non-linear thinking using linear communication, presentation and instruction”. Beeman et al., 1987
A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, concepts, ideas, tasks, or other ‘nodes’ of information, usually originating from a central topic and radiating outwards. Perhaps the most notable feature of a mind map is its non-linear design, which is useful for illustrating information which is not necessarily best represented in a straight line (as happens with a PowerPoint presentation where one slide follows another, or a book where one page follows the next, and so on). When you consider that we don’t actually think in a linear manner, this is quite a significant point. Mind mapping also goes by several other names, including brain storming, concept mapping, visual mapping, semantic mapping, etc… and while it is accurate to say that each of these titles makes for a slightly different approach and usage, they all result in the same product: a visual representation of information, presented in a non-linear manner which illustrates nodes of information and the links, processes, relationships, etc. that exist between them.
Of course, mind mapping itself is not a new concept and has been used by teachers for quite some time now, through traditional methods of chalkboard/whiteboard or paper. In recent times however a number of computer-based solutions have appeared which allow us access to all of the features of mind mapping which were possible using traditional methods, and also many additional features which make it even more powerful (as we will see below). For the purposes of this article we will concentrate mainly on two specific applications, for several reasons (which we’ll get into as we look at them) but mainly for the following features:
– both are web-based, and therefore do not need any special software (other than Flash) installed on your pc, just a web browser and an internet connection.
– both are free
– both are very easy to use and have many excellent features.
Mind Mapping Software – 2 Examples
Available at http://www.bubbl.us. You don’t even need to create an account to use many of the features of this one (although you should, because then you can save your maps, revisit and edit them, access them from any pc with an internet connection, etc…). Bubbl.us contains several very nice features, including:
- easy to use drag-n-drop functionality means you can position your ‘bubbles’ as you please, as well as linking bubbles together to illustrate relationships;
- the ability to colour-code bubbles;
- easy to create ‘sibling’ and ‘child’ nodes, and to move them around, join them to other nodes or break links between them;
- an infinite undo rate right back to the start of your map (for that login);
- the ability to email and print your mind map;
- the ability to export your mind map and save it as an image (jpeg or png), HTML or XML;
- embedability for your flash-based mindmap in a blog or website (see below);
- high resolution zoom in/out to/from the map, to look closer at certain areas or ‘stand back’ from it, and you can ‘grab’ the map to move it around the screen. Give it a go:
However, one of the strongest features of bubbl.us is that you can share your map with other bubbl.us users for collaborative working purposes (in ‘read-only’ mode so that they can view the map only or ‘full edit’ mode so that they have editorial input into the map). This opens up huge possibilities for the collaborative use of such an application in an educational context.
Available at http://www.mywebspiration.com. Recently re-released in beta (testing) format, MyWebspiration is another flash-based application which is currently freely available (although you need a user account to access any of the features of this one). Again, it’s well worth setting up the account though as it’s another excellent application for mind mapping and indeed has several extra functions to bubbl.us. For instance, it allows you to include some graphics from a pre-defined collection, and the programme’s rapid-fire brainstorming mode (which enables users to add topics and sub-topics to their maps using only the keyboard and the enter key) is very useful for when things really get going. In addition, it opens with a nice ‘getting started’ screen which allows you to start a new diagram, use ‘outline’ mode (more of a note-taking facility compared to the graphical diagram mode, but you can easily switch between both), choose from several pre-defined templates (including ‘argument development’, ‘goal plan’ and ‘write a paper’) or access your previously stored maps. And MyWebspiration also allows you to share your maps with other MyWebspiration users for collaborative working purposes, by allowing one person to edit a map at a time until that person is done editing the map, upon which time they can relinquish control of the map so that another collaborator can edit it, and so on. This package allows you greater control over shapes of bubbles, font size and colour, lines etc… although it doesn’t allow you to export your maps or embed them in webpages at this time. You can see some examples of MyWebspiration maps in the MyWebspiration gallery, and the map in the next section (‘Mind Mapping and Education’) was created using MyWebspiration.
Bubbl.us and MyWebspiration each have their own strong points. If you’re interested in mind mapping, it’s worth giving them both a try to see which suits your needs best. And if these don’t work for you, you’ll find some brief information about more software options at the bottom of this page.
Mind Mapping and Education
The possibilities of mind mapping for educational purposes are many. Here’s just a few to get you started (along with, of course, a mind map to illustrate some of the points):
- planning almost any written activity – essay, answer to an examination question, debate, etc…
- note-taking – for study purposes, or in class/tutorial/lecture settings
- argumentative purposes – pros vs cons, yes vs no, etc…
- actions-and-consequences and ‘what if’ scenarios
- organisational charts and heirarchy diagrams
- organising group projects for/with students – who is doing what, etc…
- present an overview or summary of a story, play, etc…
- character analysis
- show relationships between groups or individuals (of anything)
- planning a website, blog or wiki
- storyboarding a movie
- homework purposes – students could create maps (either individually or collaboratively) and then share/send to the teacher
- planning revision tasks for examination students
- some have argued that the less-text-and-more-visual aspect of MindMapping works well with dyslexic students (more here)
And here are some of those points illustrated with a mind map created using MyWebspiration (click here for a larger version)
Other Mind Mapping Packages
There are literally dozens of other applications available for mind mapping. Most of these are not web-based, so they are installed on an individual pc (which has it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages). Some of the more prominent mind mapping packages include:
- FreeMind – Open-source application, available at http://freemind.sourceforge.net/
- Xmind – also open-source, available at http://www.xmind.net/
- MindManager – proprietary software, so this one will cost you, but it has many very nice additional features such as the ability to include your own images, export to Microsoft Office packages, and a nice ‘presentation mode’. More info (and a 30 day trial) avilable at http://www.mindjet.com/
- ConceptDraw Mindmap – also proprietary but again very powerful. More info (and a 30 day trial) available athttp://www.conceptdraw.com/en/products/mindmap/main.php
- And if you want even more options, check out this page.
Over to You
If you would like to recommend any other mind mapping packages, or uses of mind mapping for education, please share you thoughts via the CESI mailing list. It will, as ever, be much appreciated 🙂