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Collaborative Mind Maps

Collaborative thinking maps with Mindmeister

I happened on this application while looking for a good mind mapping tool for my iPhone. I often need to organize my thoughts and projects for work and since I always carry my phone with me it seemed like the most logical thing. As soon as I downloaded the application I liked the simplicity and ease of use. Soon there after I found there was an online version.

The web site at mindmeister.com offers several paid options of this tool and one free option. The free option is great because it gives you the opportunity to explore the various features. Unlike most sites, this free trial has no expiration period. The free version has few limitations. There’s a limit of three mind maps that you can host online. Apart from this, the only other significant limitation is the ability to upload your own images.

The option to collaborate on mind maps is a feature that is available on the free version as well as the paid versions. I played with this option for a while and started to think about how this can be used in a classroom environment. It just so happened that for this summer training we wanted to focus on web 2.0 tools. After a brief demonstration to my colleagues, we all agreed it would be a perfect tool to demonstrate the collaborative features of the web.

I thought it would be a great idea to have the teachers collaborate on a mind map during the presentation. That’s just what I did. I invited the teachers at each session to create their free account. I demonstrated how to create a new mind map and enter the topic. They watched as I created parent nodes and then child nodes. The tool is very easy to use for the basics. You want to stick to the basics when introducing this to teachers and students. There’s plenty of time for fonts, colors and pictures later. It’s hard to get teachers and students back once they learn about all those options.

I briefly explained the collaborative component and invited a teacher to collaborate on this map. She gave me her email address and I entered it into the invite to collaborate box. After a few more clicks she was a collaborator. She clicked on the shared map in the main page using her computer and I asked her to add something to the map. She typed something away on her computer and in a few seconds that information appeared on my computer, which was connected to a projector and visible to everyone.

Let’s consider a classroom situation. A teacher with only one computer, projector and Internet access could start a basic collaborative lesson. At first there would be classroom participation the old fashioned way. Raise your hands please. Once the students catch on, they can come up and use the teacher’s computer to add content they have gathered in groups.

If you have a few more computers then you can take it to the next level. Create accounts for students or have them create accounts before you begin. Divide the students into groups and assign one or more computers per group. Keep it simple at first. One student per group will collaborate on the map. Start with one map for the whole class and assign one parent node per group. This makes it easy for the first collaborative map and keeps classroom management simple. On your computer, connected to a projector, develop the topic and as many parent nodes as you have groups. Each group will research information and update the node.

You might also want to develop a rubric. This will let your students know what criteria you will use to asses. This rubric can be used by your students to judge the efforts of other groups. Students can grade each group’s effort.

Your students are now using project based learning. They are directing their own learning. You are now facilitating this process with monitoring, support and classroom management.

Now that you are collaborating. Use the notes feature to provide feedback to your students. Have your students add an image to nodes. Use the link feature and have your students link to online references.

When you are done with a mind map, download it in it’s native format onto your computer. This way you can upload and use it again at a later date. You can also choose to export the mind map as a PDF document or as an image to use as part of a larger project.

This is just one example. I know you’ll have more creative ways to use this tool.

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