Let me begin by noting that I am not really what I consider a “mind map” person. In my years in school and as an educator, I felt more like I had been subjected to them rather than viewing them as a useful learning tool in my arsenal. Teaching high school, I always provided them as an option for my students, but I still viewed their fans with suspicion. All of this changed a few weeks ago when I found myself struggling to conceptualize multiple theories of motivation that we were considering in one of my courses. I was having trouble understanding the ways in which the theories built on or refuted one another, and I wanted to be able to clearly see any similarities among them. Finally, I wanted to be able to clearly identify the contributors to the field and the studies that were attached to them. I found an underutilized wall of white boards and set myself to constructing, to my surprise, a gigantic mind-map. The problem was that my creation, while useful, was now trapped on the wall. Taking pictures of it didn’t help since I knew I would be adding to it as the semester progressed. I had tried making it on various software an found them lacking. Thus, I turned to the Twitterverse to solve my dilemma. One tweet about what I needed resulted in a day of suggestions, each of which I tried. Here are the results of my adventures in mind-mapping:
What we mean we say best: The best suggestion came from Roy Grubb (@roygrubb) who linked me to a wiki that discussed “Best Mindmapping Software.” What was great about this site was that it broke down different software by the concept that no one software can possibly meet the needs of all users. My purposes for my course this semester are very specific: lots of complex theories and studies, the need to make connections and contrasts, it needed to change over time, and it needed to be shared with an audience (my classmates turned out to be really interested in what I had done and wanted a copy). While I didn’t end up using the software listed on the wiki for this project, the idea that choosing a software should include rhetorical considerations (purpose, audience) was a big eureka moment for me. It also made me recognize even more so that I needed to consider my own personal learning curve (and budget) in making my decision.
Online, collaborative, and sometimes costly: So, a number of the suggestions followed the freemium model. They all largely had similar functionality, offering a variety of templates, different user interfaces that had their own learning curves, and had some type of limited free version with optional upgrades. I can’t say that I understand each of them intimately enough to recommend one of another, so I’ll just list them here and let you decide for yourselves:
- Mindmeister: Mindmeister features real-time collaboration and mobile integration with iPad, iPhone, and Android apps. Following the freemium model, my favorite feature of Mindmeister was an Etherpad-like playback feature that allows for understanding how the concept map was constructed, not just the final product.
- Gliffy: Another browser based diagram maker, features drag & drop functionality for constructing the maps. Also following the freemium model, Gliffy proclaims on its website that it is openly competing with Visio.
- Visio: Visio is a PC-based Microsoft office that integrates with SharePoint. I gather this means that it can be shared online, but doesn’t have the collaborative capabilities that browser-based software would have? Someone correct me if I’m wrong on that. I so rarely work on PCs (or on anything that’s not browser-based, frankly) that I am pretty ignorant of the ins and outs of this one.
- Creately: Creately has an online and desktop version that is also available via the Google apps store. There is a free version that allows only for public maps with no collaboration.
- Bubbl.us: Bubbl.us has an interesting multiple page feature that works in a tabbed viewer. It also features auto-saving, collaboration, and is embeddable. Bubbl.us also appears to be entirely free.
- LucidChart.com: features real-time collaboration and free Professional accounts for education accounts. Check out the student request page: they set me up with a free pro account within minutes (h/t Dave Grow aka @dmgrow).
Re-purposing Presentation software: A number of people suggested creating mindmaps in traditional presentation software. The example above is from Prezi, which I decided to use since I knew it probably the best out of all the suggestions. It allows for online collaboration through Prezi Meeting and I can download it to the iPad. Educational accounts get a lot more functionality than on the public freemium levels do, so be sure to sign up with your .edu email. The big drawbacks for the iPad app is that it doesn’t feature editing nor does it have VGA compatibility. If Prezi has too many bells and whistles for you, Adrienne Michetti (@amichetti) swears by Apple’s Keynote (Mac only) for mindmapping goodness.
Interesting, but I didn’t try it: I have MindNode Lite, which is a Mac mindmapping application free from the App store. @MathewUSF swears by MindNode Pro ($20) or TreeOutliner (also Mac-only, $24.99 in the App store) and notes that both will export to Scrivener, a feature that makes my heart wish I had the pennies saved to be able to download these and try it. Alas, my paltry grad student salary doesn’t allow for it at this time, but someday….
Which reminds me: check what your University provides. Here at Michigan State, we have access to CMaps, which is an interesting application that works locally on one’s computer but also features real-time collaboration. Last, but certainly not least, also be sure to check out VUE (Visual Understanding Environment) which is free from Tufts and is an absolutely great program for concept mapping.
What’s your favorite method and/or software for mindmapping? Let us know in the comments!
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