Saturday, September 29, 2012

Where can we find CONFIDENCE?

Confidence: the word has been popping up frequently in my work. I find confidence comes from preparation, learning the vocabulary of a thing plus analyzing its parts and how they relate to each other and other things. While analyzing the curriculum requirements of a small college recently, I convinced the other members of the task force (committee) that one of the tools students need to emerge with is confidence. Students need to be confident communicators, and confident in their acquired knowledge, whether they go on for more education, enter or move up in the workforce, or live as educated people.

Learning the vocabulary of a thing is straightforward. I have always used flashcards to learn definitions. My mom spent countless hours with me drilling vocabulary words. We'd put the learned word cards aside and focus on the difficult terms. This method worked: I was a confident student. I still use flashcards now, for foreign languages, new words, and subject matter for work and intellectual curiosity. I still use index cards in many colors, but I am currently exploring the possibilities of electronic flashcards. Take a look at Quizlet and the mobile app Flashcards+. I'm creating decks on each of those for the Medieval Literature course I'm taking and the Opera Appreciation course I will be teaching.

Learning about the parts of a thing (analysis) and then fusing them together (synthesis) to understand the whole is a bit more complex. Mind maps are my favorite tool for this, but I understand they don't work for everyone. I can separate the parts of a book, for example, study them, and then put them back together to get a deeper sense of the story or the author's argument. I mind map things constantly to better understand them: books, courses, and data of any kind.

In order to make sense of the mountain of reading and video sources for that task force (committee)from the first paragraph examining curriculum, I mind-mapped each item, but I also made a separate mind map of the concepts that seemed important. 'Confidence' was one, but many writers and speakers discussed 'balance,' 'innovation,' 'informal learning,' 'creativity,' and others. I included notes on which authors discussed which terms and found overlap. That little mind map in purple ink on a half-sheet of paper is very handy for discussions with the task force (committee). That little mind map gives me confidence. Here is an electronic version with links to videos and articles that I made with SpiderScribe, my current favorite electronic mind mapping tool. You can move around in this smaller version or click in the upper right to see the larger view.

Mind maps work for me, but I understand they don't work for everyone. There are skeptics in every "Mind Mapping with Margaret" audience. I don't try to convince them that mind maps are better than outlines or whatever linear organization method they might use. Instead, I ask them to simply remember the image of a main idea in the center with radiating subtopics and sub-subtopics. And so, it happened again yesterday: my colleague is faced with chairing a new action team (committee) with a multifaceted charge: "What's the best current, free, electronic mind mapping tool?" "SpiderScribe," I said. His mind mapping epiphany had begun. Off he went to analyze that charge and all its parts, and he created a lemon-lime-colored SpiderScribe mind map that will boost his confidence as chair of that action team (committee).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"My Life In Graphs: A Guided Journal"

"My Life In Graphs: A Guided Journal" (created by Knock Knock and distributed by Who's There, Inc.!) is the title of a book I received for my recent birthday. The reader is prompted to reflect on her personality, goals, friends, and many other aspects of life and then represent these thoughts in various graphs. It's the perfect gift for me, really, (Thanks, Sue) since I delight in visual organization tools so much. There are no mind maps in the book so far, but bar graphs, venn diagrams, flow charts, and pie charts.

I have only completed three charts--I'm tackling one per day--and some require more reflection than others. Yesterday's pie chart asked me to estimate how much time I spend on each task in my morning routine. It is no surprise that my commute takes up almost half of my time. It was illuminating to look at this budgeted time represented in colorful pieces of pie. I had to think mathematically, too, to fit my ninety minutes of morning preparation into a pre-drawn circle marked in equal divisions of ten. Also, those ninety minutes have to add up to 100 percent. Tricky.

Today's bar graph had me think of four childhood dreams and then plot on the graph how close I have come to attaining them, if at all. This was an interesting exercise, because my natural inclination was to list current bucket-list-type goals. That's not the task, though; I had to come up with childhood dreams. Also, taking stock of what I've accomplished as an adult and then listing them as childhood dreams would create a colorful chart but would not be realistic.

As the cover says, the book is 76% reflection and 24% naval gazing. So far I find that to be accurate, but I have also found it to be 60% fun and 40% thought-provoking, and 100% perfect for us mind map types.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cool New Tool: spiderscribe

I presented my new and improved mind mapping (etc.) presentation four times this academic year, and I always get the same question: "What about software?" I've blogged before in this space about my preference for making hand-drawn mind maps because I feel that I get more out of that process. For me, the drawing (and coloring) of a mind map helps me get to the synthesis, the deeper learning, and the flow of a concept easier.

That said, I do understand that mind maps can be used for other purposes: presentations, memory aids, organizing notes, and pulling together assorted media. Until very recently, I didn't have a favorite electronic way to organize this stuff. It seemed that since I started paying attention, mind mapping software has disappeared from cyberspace, has gone from free to not-free, and is just plain clunky. Tony Buzan's iMindMap is super, but you have to pay for it. I'm just not comfortable recommending an expensive tool like that (however snazzy and useful) to educators who will be using it with students.

Today in my inbox was an email from a friend with just a simple link in it: This might be the one. I watched the short introductory video and then toyed around with it. It's simple to use, and can bring together photos, text, Word docs, and even maps easily. It would work an effective presentation tool, but without the established path function that Prezi has. There aren't many color, shape and clip-art choices, but the spiderscribe is designed to be visually apealling without those bells and whistles. There's not an embed option, so I can't plunk my sample into this blog. However, here is the mind map I created this morning to test out spiderscribe: Cape May Lighthouse. Maps can be public, private, or findable only if a viewer has the link.

I like it. I like how it reminds me of Evernote for organizing data and images but Prezi at other times when considering presentation. Try it!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Glogster Works for Visual Organization

Glogster is a free, snazzy-looking, online poster-making tool that can be used to organize information visually. I had to create an assignment for a Media Literacy Institute I attended this year using social media tools. I used Glogster for the front part, incorporating an Xtranormal video explaining the assignment, then showing the phases of the assignment (finding, evaluating, and using information ethically) graphically, and ultimately linked out to an example of a finished assignment. I used Prezi for this (also a great free tool for visual organizers) and featured Screenr and Evernote. I thought it looked pretty cool and covered the assignment well.

Click on the following link, then follow the arrows. At the end, the Glog should link to the Prezi where you'll have to advance manually, clicking on the triangle.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Organizing Information Visually for Deeper Learning, Efficiency, and Continuity"

Before the Presentation in San Diego (photo by Linda McCann)

This was the title of my latest mind-map-related presentation, at the Innovations 2011 conference in San Diego. It's a cumbersome title, I know, but I wanted to be sure my audience of community college educators understood I would be speaking about more than just mind maps. I was including other techniques for organizing information as well as how to use these tools to inspire ourselves and our students towards deeper learning.

This presentation evolves every time I offer it. For the San Diego presentation, I added some ideas from the book Ways of Seeing by John Berger. This is an older book, first published in 1972 and consisting of seven essays, explores how humans learn to process concepts with pictures before they master language. This idea reinforces the teaching of mind map guru Tony Buzan who claims this is why mind maps are so helpful for organizing and remembering information. I contend that this is also why mind maps could be so beneficial at a community college where there are many developmental students and students for whom English is a second language. Start with pictures. Use images to remember information.

I also added some feedback into this presentation to support my ideas. When I explain that I understand not everyone in the room will take to mind maps and other forms of visual organization of information right away, I usually encourage attendees to keep an open mind. That is what happened to Brian, a colleague, who on a recent bike ride with his son, came upon a bear. this is rather unusual for out part of the country, and while he was primarily concerned with their safety, he wanted to make sure his son saw the bear himself and retained the priceless memory. A mere narrative did not suffice because there were so many parts to the story. Brian ended up creating his first mind map to record the details of the day and the many emotions conjured up by the bear sighting. The story went over well.

The Ah-Ha Mind Map, the book Snow in August (photo by Liz Sette)

I had warned the attendees that the presentation would seem memoiry at times because the best mind maps (and other graphic representations) are the ones that come from real life and represent content that is important to me. This made sense. I was free to show mind maps (etc.) from my articles that were influenced in form and content by organizing information this way. I also included some mind maps that were essentially cheat sheets and simple timeline organizers because mind maps work for those purposes, too.

The presentation was a success, I thought, and as icing on the cake, one of the attendees likened the use of mind maps (and others) to Hegelian Dialectic. In fact, that's pretty much it in the original sense of the idea: there's the concept to be studied (thesis), the breaking-up or analysis of the concept into branches or linked boxes or whatever the chosen format dictates (antithesis), and then the forming of new thought or deeper understanding (synthesis). I'll probably borrow that in my next presentation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Worry, Hand-Drawn Mind Maps, I'll Defend You

Something happened this week that made me think of the hand-drawn mind maps that I use in an educational presentation propelled by some snazzy technology. My presentation has been well-received, and I have a few engagements coming up in the near future. The content was there first: mind maps, other visual organization tools, and how they can help a person get to higher thinking and deeper learning. The snazzy technology (especially Prezi, a visual organizer itself) was carefully selected afterwards in order to highlight the content. My concern is that this is not always the case, and too often the content serves the technology rather than the other way around. The zeitgeist of education is changing and there's less pedagogy, less intellectual curiosity, and an emphasis on technology.

I use technology in all of my presentations, or I would run the risk of appearing extremely dry. I've endured the paper-presenting-conference scene and hope to never have to do that again. (For the uninitiated, this is where you write a scholarly paper, submit it to a conference, and if selected, show up at the appointed time and literally read the paper to a captive audience.) Today's more engaging technology-laced presentations are a better use of time, as long as the technology serves the content. Prezi, the popular presentation software with which I have replaced PowerPoint, looks cool with its zooming and spinning, but it also serves as an organizing device. Animated Xtranormal videos and Glogster posters get the "listener's" attention to be sure, but the content has to be ready to take over.

My content is mind maps, content maps, knowledge maps and other examples of visual organizations and explanations of information. Most of these are my own, and most of these are hand-drawn. One of the points I make in my presentation is that these tools are extremely helpful for visual and kinesthetic learners. I believe I am a combination of these and that the very act of drawing these maps and assigning colors helps me remember, organize, and make connections.

My goal is to help my listeners and readers find ways to organize, remember, and schedule and attain higher-level thinking and deeper learning with these tools The hand-drawn techniques will work better for some. The problem is that I perceive, especially through the "perfect storm" of events this week, that there is an aversion to non-electronic learning objects and ideas. The pendulum of teaching has swung to the extreme, a focus on technology rather than learning. I'm hoping that pendulum will come to rest in the center where the focus will be on using these snazzy technologies to create more effective teaching and learning.

Here's a piece of visual technology with a pendulum in it because this post has no other pictures.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Article with No Mention of Mind Maps Specifically in the Title

Notification just arrived that my short how-to article on using visual organization tools has been published on this British website. I've expanded the techniques described, and because of this I thought the mention of mind maps in the title would be misleading. Sometimes concept maps, knowledge maps, and other tools fit the content better. Mind maps are still my favorite, and I use them more often than the others. What do you think? What's your favorite technique?