Thanks to Emily Forster, Lecturer in the Centre for Learning and Study Support at DMU for this blog post:
I have used mind maps and mind mapping software in my own writing since I was a student and it is a technique I use a lot in my own teaching. I work in the Centre for Learning and Study Support at DMU and work with helping students to develop their academic writing. Recently I have been running workshops for both students and staff at DMU with my colleague Jina Ali on how mind mapping software can be used to support the writing process, and Julia asked me to write a blog post on this.
Mind mapping is a visual way of presenting information and making connections between ideas. It was first described in its modern form by Tony Buzan. Students are often encouraged to create paper mind maps to help them plan their writing but by using mind mapping software it can be used to support the whole writing process as it has the function to export their work to other software including Microsoft Word. This is particularly beneficial for students who have specific learning differences such as dyslexia as they often think in a non-linear way and this plays to their visual strengths. However, this can technique can be beneficial for all students.
Some of the challenges students have with academic writing include thinking critically about a topic, balancing their own ideas with evidence and structuring their work. Using the software can help with all of these issues. Students who use it also report that it can help to take away the dreaded fear of the blank page and make a start on their writing. By working on their writing in a non linear way students can start to think of their work as a process and recognise that editing is an important part of this. This can help to tackle perfectionism.
I always encourage students to start by considering closely their essay question or topic and putting all of their ideas and thoughts down into a mind map. This can be thought of as a brain dump and at this stage students are not encouraged to discard any ideas. Once they have a good outline students can start to do more research. Most mind mapping software allows students add resources and links to their map so they can keep all of their references in one place. They can also add pictures to the map as you can see in the example below on graphic novels making it a great resource for art and design students.
One of the things I encourage students to do is to get as much of their writing as possible done in the software. This way they do not need to worry too much about the order. Mind Genius has a notes pane function where they can select a single branch on the map and write down in detail what they would like to say. This stays with that branch even when the map is edited.
One of the main benefits of using mind mapping software is that it is easy to edit the structure, move sections around and make connections between ideas. This has benefits for critical thinking. It is also useful for larger pieces of work such as dissertations which need to be written in a non-linear way. As editing is a key part of the process it encourages students to think about the most logical way to connect their ideas and make their writing stronger.
All of the examples here were created in Mind Genius.
Thank you for a very useful blog post Emily – there is a nice parallel here with some of our paper-based activities such as Reframing – it will be interesting to explore how these might be developed using this software.