The mindmap starts off bare – just the main topic in the centre with the sub-topics surrounding it. As the tutorial progresses, the mindmap takes shape, like a creature sprouting colourful appendages. The end result is a visual summary of the lesson, which students find so useful that they take photos of it with their cameras.
Dr Chua Ai Lin is a mindmapping maven. The Department of History lecturer has been creating mindmaps since her days as an undergraduate. Initially, she used it for note taking, but she extended it to teaching and brainstorming when she progressed on to doing her Masters and PhD.
“I’ve never taught a single tutorial without using a mindmap,” Dr Chua highlights, “It’s an absolutely crucial and integral part of the way I teach.”
Her foray into mindmapping began when a cousin, who was teaching at NUS, introduced her to mindmapping, recommending the seminal book by Tony Buzan. Dr Chua, waiting to start her undergraduate studies at the time, didn’t need further encouragement to proceed. She read the book and put what she read into practice.
What was it that drew her in? She explains, “Ultimately, linear notes are not so fun to make. And it’s not just the colours but the way in which every time you make a mindmap, it’s very organic. It looks distinctive. At the end of the day you can enjoy is visually as well. I like that.”
During tutorials, Dr Chua splits the class into groups and asks them to discuss various sub-topics related to the lesson of the week. Each group has a different topic. As the students present what they have discussed, she draws the mindmap on the whiteboard. So, in a sense, it is the students who come up with the mindmap.
“Mindmaps are very good at drawing together what everybody in the class is saying and making links between what they are all saying so that we can see how it is all tied together,” Dr Chua points out, "The organic look of multicoloured hand-drawn mindmaps helps to stimulate right brain/creative thinking as well as being a visual mnemonic device"
Pen-and-paper or marker-and-whiteboard mindmaps do have their limitations, as Dr Chua observes, “There are times when you want to do something presentable, to make handouts, for example. Also, I wanted to find a way to use mindmaps for lectures as I feel the linear form of Powerpoint presentations is boring.”
She actively researched mindmapping software, narrowing down her choices to a few which she downloaded and tried. While she is partial to iMindMap – Tony Buzan’s official mindmapping software – for its highly organic-looking mindmaps, Dr Chua used an free online mindmapping tool called Mindomo to create a mindmap, about the Singapore River, for distribution to her class. All Dr Chua needed to do to share the mindmap was to inform her students of the URL.
Dr Chua offers one other use, “With mindmaps online, students can possibly collaborate on a mindmap, though I haven’t tried that.”
Will Dr Chua give up pen-and-paper mindmaps? “For myself, I would still draw them on paper because of that creative and organic look,” she states, “But there are times when you want to use software to do it.”
CIT has launched an online mindmapping tool for staff and student use. More information can be found in this issue of IDEAS and on the information page about the Mindomo-powered online mindmapping software.