Minding mapping in the Social Media Classroom

Mindmapping is a big feature of Howard Rheingold’s course – Towards a Literacy of Cooperation. We are not only expected to collaboratively mindmap in the live sessions….

Week 1 mindmap SMC

…… but also the first individual mission (task) requires the production of a mindmap.

Find an example of cooperative arrangements, mutualism, complex interdependencies in biology and make a simple mindmap, post it under the Mindmaps tab. You can hand-draw, scan, and upload a .jpg or .png. Or you can use one of the many mindmapping services available, many of which afford embedding.

This is a problem for me. It’s not that I don’t know anything about mindmapping or using mapping to capture information and inform thinking. I have been living with a soft systems engineer for more than 40 years, so have been aware of academics such as Peter Checkland, systems thinking, rich pictures and so on, for a long time, and have even, some time ago, attended a course run by Eli Goldratt  on the Theory of Constraints to consider whether it could be applied to school education. This involved a lot of mental modelling in the form of maps. In our house if there is a complex problem to work through, a rich picture is drawn – but not by me.

I have also been aware of the work of Novak on ‘learning how to learn’ for many years and have even taught concept mapping to elementary school children. I know that if you say to a six year old child – ‘If I say the word ‘plant’ what word does it make you think of?’ and the child replies hopefully with a word such as leaf, flower or root, then the next question is ‘Why did you think of that word?’ and you have the beginning of a concept map which can be drawn out initially by the adult for the child. I have seen a six year old child draw her own concept map with the support of an adult to talk her through it.

Of course, rich pictures, concept maps and mindmaps are all different things.

Rich pictures are akin to concept maps in that the purpose of both is to graphically depict the relationships between the concepts. Rich pictures are used for understanding complex problems.

Rich Pictures are a diagrammatic way of relating your own experiences and perceptions to a given problem situation through the identification and linking of a series of concepts. The creation of a Rich Picture provides a forum in which to think about a given situation. Rich pictures should concentrate on both the structure and the processes of a given situation. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rich_picture)

In school I used concept maps to elicit children’s understanding of the concepts. What they said about why they had connected two words would tell me a lot; a child who says plants have leaves, is at a very different level of understanding to a child who says plants need leaves for photosynthesis.

A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships among concepts. It is a graphical tool for organizing and representing knowledge. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept_map )

Mindmaps are the tool of Howard’s choice, and some others in the course appear to be skilled at producing them.

A mind map is a diagram used to visually outline information. A mind map is often created around a single word or text, placed in the center, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added. Major categories radiate from a central node, and lesser categories are sub-branches of larger branches.Categories can represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items related to a central key word or idea. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map)

According to Howard, mindmapping is a way of breaking out of linear thinking and moving towards lateral and visual thinking. Visual mapping is certainly widely popular amongst many learners these days, with Nancy White and Giulia Forsythe immediately coming to mind.

Despite all this I have never felt comfortable with any sort of mapping. I rarely get any increased understanding from looking at other people’s maps and it just isn’t the way I naturally organise my own thinking. Does this mean that I am not a lateral thinker, not an organized thinker, not a visual thinker, not a creative thinker – and if the answer to all this is ‘Yes’, does this mean I am an inferior thinker?

I would like to think that we need both linear and lateral thinkers and that in any learning group there will be a mix and both will be catered for. Does lateral thinking necessarily follow from linear thinking, i.e. a step up from linear thinking, or could some lateral thinkers benefit from more linear thinking? Here is an interesting article on linear versus adaptive strategic thinking  which describes how Sun Tzu recognizes the need for lateral thinking, but doesn’t reject the benefits of linear thinking.

15 thoughts on “Minding mapping in the Social Media Classroom

  1. Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold) January 30, 2013 / 5:34 pm

    You left out one important alternative: Maybe you need to push past your discomfort and practice it a little more. By all means, make a concept map if a mindmap is not your cup of tea. I like concept mapping, myself. If you don’t feel like drawing, Google Image Search is a rich asset. Try it. Maybe you are right and you just don’t think this way. However, my mother, the art teacher, believed that all humans enjoy expressing ourselves visually, but we are mostly shut down at an early age by uninformed criticism. http://rheingold.com/art-gallery/

  2. jennymackness January 30, 2013 / 5:54 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Howard. I am sure you are right. I maybe do need to push past my discomfort a little more and of course ‘practise makes perfect’.

    But I have yet to be convinced that the time I would need to spend to develop this skill is worth it. Maybe your course will change my mind. I have completed the first mission and produced a concept map despite my discomfort, and exposed my inadequacies by posting it on your course wiki and writing about the experience here in my blog – so I don’t think I am a shirker. I just need to feel that it is worth the effort.

    As far as expressing ourselves visually goes, I agree. I have taught art to children between the ages of 3 and 11 – and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I have done a lot of painting myself and (in the past) exhibited my work. I have friends who are artists and I love to visit exhibitions, the most recent being the Bronze Exhibition and the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition in London.

    But in the end we can each choose how we want to express ourselves and what we feel comfortable with. And if we didn’t have the fortune to have a teacher like your mother, we might have gone down a different path, but still be able to express ourselves albeit in a different ‘language’ and medium, which could be equally valuable.

    I am certainly finding the course thought-provoking 🙂

  3. Lisa M Lane January 31, 2013 / 2:16 am

    Jenny, I know exactly what you mean. Back in CCK08, Siemens and Downes assigned mindmapping and it made me crazy. I did do it, and later in Alec Couros ec&i831 I even used it by choice to record my readings as I went exploring. I found that what I was doing with it was more like an exploded outline, and thinking that way helped, because I’m linear too. You can see it in my ec&i map: http://www.mindmeister.com/62813451/lisa-s-adventures-in-ec-i-831-summary-of-learning.

  4. jennymackness January 31, 2013 / 4:45 pm

    Hi Lisa- thanks for your comment and sharing your experience. You certainly seem to have cracked mindmapping. Actually I think mindmapping is pretty linear, unlike concept mapping which is not.

    The way I organise my readings/thoughts is through personal wikis – so I have one for this course. If the Sidebar is carefully and consistently organised, then I think it ends up very much like a mindmap – but with all the detail in the pages – and of course the readings can be easily annotated.

    One problem I have with mindmaps is how difficult it is to maintain a picture of the whole whilst looking at the detail – and a picture of the whole, because they are often so big, is pretty impossible for me to read.

    So a wiki, together with Mendeley and Delicious (which I use less), seem to be enough for me.

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