Mindmapping, the Chicago Cubs of apps

Perhaps I’m alone on this, but just as the Cubbies [there were several other teams to enter here, but I’ll go with the Cubs for this] go into every baseball season with hopes of this being the year, but find that at the end of the season they are just playing out the string. Mindmapping is one of those things that feels like it should revolutionize your class, but it never does. I’ve taken runs at it more times than I can count, and while an occasional student has taken off with it, as a whole, or at least majority of the class activity, it has never gotten off the ground.

This article from the excellent site informationtamers has some good insights about mindmapping, including this

I’ve been mapping for more than thirty years but soon after starting, I concluded that there are two motivations for using mind maps and similar types: Where the mindmapping process is what’s really important – to help you think something through or get new ideas; and where the resulting mindmap is important as a finished product that will be shared with others in some way.

The insight that there are two motivations seems to explain why most students fall between them and never really take off with the idea and why I can’t use it effectively as a pedagogical tool.

The wikipedia comparison is probably the most up-to-date, though it may not have all the info you want. The two main players are Mindmeister and Mindomo, which, by virtue of being online apps, are stored in the cloud. Mindmeister has a number of great features and so is great for organizing your thoughts, but for my students, I use Mindomo, for the simple reason that one can log into it if one has a google/gmail account, which all of the students have from the 2nd year and students can share their mindmaps with you with a free account. They can also publish them to the web or embed it in a blog relatively easily.

However, Mindmeister has recently been integrated with Google Hangouts, which might be a gamechanger. The DMLL krewe has started using a Google Hangout to organize our efforts, so I’m now looking at using a Hangout for my seminar and sotsuron students, and the integration of mindmaps is very intriguing.

A third contender is bubble.us, which sports similar features to the two above.

This review, about bubble.us, actually has a laundry list of things that work with almost any mindmapping app:

There are countless possibilities at this mental mapping site. Demonstrate the tool on an interactive whiteboard or projector, and then allow students to try to create their own graphic organizers. Use this site for literature activities, research projects, social studies, or science topics of study. Use this site to create family trees. Have students collaborate together (online) to create group mind maps or review charts before tests on a given subject. Have students organize color-code concepts to show what they understand, wonder, question; map out a story, plotline, or LIFETIME; map out a step-by-step process (life cycle); map a real historical event as a choose-your-own-adventure with alternate endings(?) based on pivotal points; plan a “tour” for a “thought museum.” Use this mapping website as an alternative to a traditional test, quiz, or homework assignment in literature or social studies: have students demonstrate their understanding by completing a graphic organizer about the main points. To minimize the number of maps on a free account, have students screenshot or print their results to turn them in.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons I have never been able to find the perfect mind-mapping app is that they are like writing implements: you may like one particular brand of pencil or pen, but when you need to get the job done, you just need the basic features and despite the fact that your Pentel Ener-gel Tradio* “almost never skip[s], and [is] designed better than nearly every comparable gel ink pen on the shelf”, you really just need something to scrawl your name on a form. I’d love to hear from mind-mapping aficionados who might give a more expert eye to particular features.

*I should note that I love reading reviews not only of the PenAddict, but also of anyone who really, really loves the objects they are talking about. And, like mindmapping, I always think that I’m going to get a pen that I love to use and stick to it, but I always end up stuffing whatever writes in my backpack and going with that.

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