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.