Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mind Mapping for Teachers, Part 4: Improving Research

This is the final part of a guest series on mind mapping by Hobie Swan, a professional writer from Boise, ID. Mr. Swan is interested in helping teachers find ways to incorporate this strategy into the classroom.

Article 4: Using mind mapping for research
If you have had a chance to read the other articles in this series, you will have noticed that there are a few things that are unique to mind mapping. These include:
  • The ability to easily combine many information types in one document
  • The natural proclivity toward information chunking
  • The ability to get a birds’ eye view of information—and to drill down to details.
Each of these qualities can be a big help when conducting research.

Combining information types
As I said before, mind maps make it easy to combine URLs, images, video, audio, and ideas in one document. The resulting “information object” truly reflects the state of information in the 21st century. For all the advances that have been made in technology, the average research still resembles something created in the middle of the 20th century: pages of type, maybe with an occasional image or graph, the obligatory footnotes, citations, etc. It’s kind of dry—especially for today’s students who live in a very rich media world.

But this isn’t simply a matter of form. The goal is to help students learn. I can remember as a kid having to do a “report” on Mexico. All it really involved was collecting what I recall as almost a foot-tall stack of pamphlets, articles, and tourist brochures. It wasn’t about interacting with the information. It was about seeing how much you could collect.

With mind maps, you can collect a staggering amount of information because you can quickly hide all but the small portion you want to deal with at any given moment. But what is different about mind mapping is that you can hide 99% of this information and concentrate on the 1% you need to focus on at any given moment. Furthermore, the visual nature of the mind map interface enables you to navigate effortlessly from one information point to another, inserting your comments adjacent to each “chunk” of information in the map.

Download the full example lesson via Google Docs.

Final note
I hope that this series of articles has got you thinking about providing your students—and yourself—with a tool that matches the way the human mind prefers to work. Unlike more linear tools, mind mapping allows users to cast their nets widely—to brainstorm and capture all of their thinking on a topic. By supporting the natural movement from divergent to convergent thinking, mind mapping keeps students from getting trapped at the start is overly narrow lines of investigation.

Mind mapping then provides users with a way to rapidly combine into one document many kinds of information—and to add to that pre-existing data their interpretations of and insights about that information. You and your students can build these fantastically complex and complete information objects. Then they can choose to restrict the information view and concentrate on one point at a time.

Finally (and this may seem trivial), mind mapping give students the ability to add creativity to the often tedious process of conducting research. By changing fonts, adding icons (like the lit bomb on the branch about ethnic cleansing), and inserting photos or clip art, students can in a way personalize their information gathering. This simple step of adding visual interest to a body of information adds a personal dimension to what is often a very impersonal process. And it can help student create visual cues that will draw their interest and attention immediately back to key information.

I said this before in this series, but I think it bears repeating: Today’s students swim in a multimedia world the likes of which few teaches experienced at such an early age. By providing students with a tool they can use to recapture some of the “polymorphous perversity” of the modern information landscape, teachers can enliven the education process, making learning more creative, thoughtful and, dare I say it… fun.

Hobart Swan is a professional writer who has worked with mind mapping tools and companies for the past 20 years. To see an example of a book Swan organized using mind mapping, visit Swan has worked for two leading mind mapping companies, CS Odessa, maker of ConceptDraw MINDMAP, and Mindjet, maker of MindManager.

Read the other entries in the series:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Chunking of Language
Part 3: Improving Student Writing