Mapping connections 4 learning

Mind maps (the term is attributed to Tony Buzan although the idea is much older) are a useful tool to organize knowledge visually and deepen understanding. When drawn on a piece of paper or whiteboard, the maps are easy to create and change, yet provide a clear and shareable record of thinking about a subject.

12Apps of Christmas graphicWhen the maps are developed using an app or web-based service, mind mapping becomes even more powerful and portable. I’ve used various apps over the last few years and thought they might be an interesting addition to the annual BCcampus 12apps for Christmas event. But how to choose an app?

The 12apps event has a simple set of attributes:

  • free (or at least an option to try for free so everyone could try it easily)
  • cross platform (iOs or Android – bonus if it works in a web browser too!)
  • has potential to support teaching and/or learning.

I added a few additional characteristics to help me choose:

  • visually attractive (without a lot of fussing)
  • easy to save or share (even if the saved version couldn’t be edited in other apps)
  • clear terms of use and help to get started
  • collaborative (a big bonus and only available with some)

I chose SimpleMind first as I thought it scored reasonably well and I had used it in the past as an iPad app and liked it. But after initial testing and review of features, I found they had restricted what I felt was an essential attribute of free use – you could no longer save your mind maps in any way – not even with a screen capture!

So I went back to check out Bubbl.us, Freemind, Mindomo, Mindmup, Mindmeister, Popplet, Lucidchart (not technically a mind mapping app). Some were open source and required installation on a server (or didn’t have an app option for mobile devices; other apps had a free or trial version but were expensive (comparatively) if you wanted to continue and expand your use.

I finally settled on Coggle – it was cross-platform, easy to use, produced visually appealing maps without a lot of fuss, and could be used collaboratively. Although the free version had limitations, the price for a basic subscription was in line with other apps.

example mind map - lasers

Coggle Gallery: Lasers

Mind maps are useful for various knowledge building activities and Coggle makes it easy to use to engage learners in online classes:

  • creating a visual map of course themes, topics and learning objectives to help students manage their learning or to help an instructor develop or refine a course;
  • creating collaborative maps to summarize highlights of a week’s forum postings or to share final reflections on learning as a course draws to a close;
  • for individual learning as a way to take meaningful notes during presentations or while reviewing research reports;
  • to support collaborative knowledge building activities by having small groups create and share mind maps of their research and analysis of a relevant topic; and,
  • to support a blended learning activity beginning from individual to small group discussion using a paper-based graphic organizer to capture and refine brainstorming (face-to-face) and then moving tChristmas mind map with Cogglehe discussion into an online session where small groups shared digital mind maps of their analysis to contribute to a final summary of critical perspectives on an important theme or issue.
  • And I had some fun by completing my own “What about Christmas?” mind map!

There’s not been too much participation (at least visibly) in this year’s 12apps event but the daily app blog posts will stay visible throughout the year so you can easily refer back to find a new app to try.

If you’re curious to learn more about the potential of mind maps and other visual organizers and analytical approaches, check out some of these articles:

 

Making marks and dancing feelings at SKiP2018

Sketching in Practice logoOne of the things I love about living ‘down south’, is the opportunity to follow a whim or curiosity in terms of professional development. When I saw some tweets fly by about a Sketching in Practice symposium sponsored by SFU, my interest was piqued. When I poked around a bit I found the pages and pictures from the 2016 and 2017 events and then followed the blog until the presenters for this year’s event were posted. I checked my calendar, figured out travel details and registered.

I’ve explored graphic facilitation and sketchnoting in the past but I appreciated the wider scope of SKiP2018. From a young art teacher, Meghan Parker, who had just completed the first “..thesis of an autobiographical nature in comic book form” to two academics, Dr. Kathryn Ricketts and Dr. Andrea Kantrowitz, who proposed to explore intersections between movement, gesture, and meaning, the day looked pretty full of thought-provoking experiences!

A last minute surprise was my winning a draw for a pre-event workshop with Carnegie Mellon’s Doug Cooper called “Drawing by Touch.” Thanks SKiP!

So…what?

So, what did I learn? what did it change about my ongoing professional development ideas and interests?

Comics in education

I am still ambivalent about the role of comics (as most comics are drawn) in education. After listening to Meghan Parker speak her comic thesis, I realized that part of my resistance to comic strips may have been the structure (connected boxes) and the visual busy-ness I perceive when I try to read them. I was surprised at how much I learned from Meghan’s comics and how some of her simple images and complex messages stayed with me afterwaMeghan Parker's thesis comicrds. I realized I appreciated the variation in presentation of her visual elements – sometimes she drew around boxes while at other times she had a pageful of boxes. I’ll revisit some comic strips and try reading them out loud too – might help me to understand the attraction 😉

 

Hand drawing on paper

I have always found that writing can help me work out ideas but I often struggle with using drawing the same way. I’ve found that the challenge of imagining an image to represent a complex idea takes a fair bit of thinking at times and my lack of any drawing automaticity means that I’m also struggling to think of how to draw the image I can picture. Sometimes that means drawing is a block to understanding rather than an aid. So, the natural drawing exercises (from author/teacher Kimon Nicolaides: The Natural Way to Draw (1941)) that Doug talked/walked/drew us through on Thursday afternoon were really helpful as he introduced me to some new ways of relaxing about drawing and finding ways to feel the shapes of what I see and to let my hand and arm relax and stay connected with the paper. Now, to make drawing a more natural part of my day so that I can use it more effectively in my practice.

drawing scienceDrawing Science

I thoroughly enjoyed Armin Mortazavi’ Lightning Talk. His understated delivery and self-deprecating humour make it easy to miss the impressive abilities of this young science cartoonist. His story about juggling personal crises while holding various government entities at bay while he created a meaningful story to communicate complex health and nutrition information through his comics was hilarious but enlightening. I’m only sorry I couldn’t be part of his session – I heard it was great.

Maps for inspiration; maps for understanding

Two related afternoon sessions: Professor Chris Lanier shared some interesting examples of some of his favourite graphic novels and then pulled us into an exploration of how drawn images can inspire story narratives. An interesting use of this narrative mapping technique that certainly drew some interesting stories from the audience. Chris is currently working on a novel about the Department of Justice’s Ferguson Police Department Report (An Anatomy of Institutional Racism), using comics and infographics.

Erin Fields hosted an interesting session exploring the Information World Mapping (IWM), developed by Dr. Devon Greyson. She involved us in a brief application of the technique, having us draw our information world – mapping the process and connections we think of when we try to resolve a problem. This enriched our understanding of her story about applying this method at UBC when she participated in an application of IWM to try to understand the information-related needs and preferences of student refugees during resettlement. Erin is Liaison Librarian in the humanities and social sciences and the Flexible Learning Coordinator at the University of British Columbia.

Drawing as a form of thinking

I had read about Sandra’s use of drawing journals in a recent article from Capilano University’s Bettina Boyle so I was curious to hear her story and learn more about how she integrated drawing in her teaching. She shared her journey and her efforts to understand the evidence underlying her beliefs and practices in the classroom. Some of her examples were very compelling and a good “push” to start incorporating more drawing and journaling to support my own personal reflective practices!

Marks, movements and meanings

I think there is much more to the ideas Dr. Ricketts and Andrea Kantrowitz wanted to share with us than I was able to absorb from their Lightning Talk and interactive three-part session. Although the fluidity of movement, the variation in emotional expression and story conveyed by Kathryn’s movements was interesting, and the use of the projected overlays of line, colour and form that Andrea drew as she was inspired and interacting with Kathryn’s story were eye-catching, I never really felt the two blended or augmented my understanding, although the group I was part of during the “audience participation” piece had a lot of fun trying to use movement to express emotions depicted by tiny drawings on scraps of paper. I was grateful for the small printed booklets Andrea shared afterwards and I’ll be “unpacking” the ideas as I have time.

Whew! It was a full day and a half – had to leave early to catch a ferry home. Too bad I missed the summation and the opportunity to get together with people afterwards. But my hat is off to the hardworking, enthusiastic SFU staff that helped us all learn together – and kept it fun!

Cheers to Jason Toal’s team of sketching enthusiasts – from Simon Fraser University’s, Faculty of Communications Art and Technology; School of Interactive Art and Technology; and the Teaching and Learning Center

 

The risks of “free” tools

Why is it that we are so shocked when our free tools change? While it can be annoying, somewhat sad, or potentially expensive, why are we so surprised?

A recent mini-Twitter storm erupted when Padlet announced changes to their popular collaborative bulletin board service that would see the cost go from zero to roughly $100 per year (and that’s in American dollars – a little tougher for Canadians to swallow). Although the company continues to provide free access, they chose to limit the number of boards – which seemed like a reasonable solution but upset many teachers who had been such enthusiastic users of the serivice. Unfortunately, many school budgets don’t include money for “free” tools and teachers don’t always have the funds to pay for them out of their own pockets. Unlike other “freemium” tools that have changed over the last number of years, Padlet seems to be making every effort to explain the rationale and address concerns in a straightforward way (see recent explanations of the changes by Padlet’s Nitash Goel on Teachercast and Medium.)

A couple of months ago, Wikispaces, the popular collaborative wiki service, announced that Wikispaces would be closing in 2019. They explained in a blog post that updating their service to meet current standards and usage would be too expensive and provided help to users to export their content over the next year.  The brief cloud-flurry of posts acknowledging the value that Wikispaces had provided (e.g., Good-Bye Wikispaces) to making open collaboration ‘doable’ since the service started in 2005 seemed to support the company’s decision. Wikis (most or all – not sure) don’t work on mobile devices so that’s a big detraction when I consider using them nowadays and I’d guess many users had moved off to other options. However, Prof Mike Caulfield took the closure a little more seriously (see The Garden and the Stream.)

Google’s recent announcement that they are shutting down “goo.gl” a URL shortener and QR code generator, was more annoying. A March 30th article explains (sigh) goo.gl faced competition from other popular URL shortneners like bit.ly but the main reason seemed to be that the developers felt that it no longer represented the way that most people found things on the web.  Users of the service (like me!) are assured that their short URLs will continue to point to the same websites but that no new shortened URLs can be created.

But the demise or renovation of free apps and web services is part of the cost and risks of innovation. Providers offer “free” tools to spread the idea and test the functionality of different aspects but the underlying motivation is still to make a profit (and potentially go viral and make a fortune 😉 Some go through the spreading – testing – tweaking – retesting cycle quickly and then disappear. There’s rarely a lot of talk about those; it’s the ones that we get comfortable with because they just go on working (without costing us anything) for a long time are the ones that create consternation when they change (or die).

For many of us who use freemium tools for our work and personal lives, losing a favourite tool is more than just an annoyance. It is a bit of an emotional hit too as we invest a lot of time and get a lot of satisfaction from developing expertise in using a good tool like Padlet, Wikispaces or goo.gl. And, in many cases, we can’t find an equivalent app or web service – that makes it even sadder.

But it’s all part of the ephemerality of the networked lives we lead – change is the constant. The ability to adapt rapidly, effectively and without regrets is what older networked learners like me need to practice constantly 😉

 

 

Research notes:

Padlet

Wikispaces

goo.gl

Google Developers blog:  Transitioning Google URL Shortener to Firebase Dynamic Links  March 30, 2018

Humphries, Matthew, Google is Shutting Down Goo.gl, PC Magazine, April 2, 2018

 

Making learning personal

Have you noticed the the increased use of the terms “individualization”, “differentiation” and “personalization” ? While more prevalent in K-12 education conversations, the terms (often linked with adaptive technologies) are increasingly part of the focus within higher education. They are cited as being part of the move to more effectively engage diverse learners and help them learn what they are interested in, and need for their future.

Do you think you know what they mean? Do you feel you are able to offer one or all of these approaches in your teaching?

When I asked myself, I realized I was a little hazy on the differences between the terms and was finding the link to online learning and the power of adaptive approaches and technologies. So, to clarify I turned to my Googlebrain and found what seemed to be a useful explanation (from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology) and discovered that two were actually subsumed in one (i.e., individualization and differentiation are considered a part of personalization).

Individualization Differentiation  Personalization
 instruction paced to the learning needs of each student  instruction to meet learning preferences of different learners  instruction paced to learning needs, preferences and interests of different learners
 learning goals same for each student  learning goals same for each student  learning objectives, content, method and pace may all vary
learning progress allows faster, slower pace for each student  method and/or approach varies for each student, based on their preferences or what research has found works best for students like them  encompasses both individualization and differentiation
Personalization – “Personalized Learning”
instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner. Learning objectives, instructional approaches, and instructional content (and its sequencing) may all vary based on learner needs.

In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and often self-initiated.

Based on my own experiences, I would say I try to offer this kind of flexibility to individual learners as often as I can but I doubt I ever fully achieve “personalization”. I don’t really see how it is possible to address all the aspects described in the definition, within a structured school system built on measurable, demonstrable, similar learning outcomes.

Many of us face increasing class sizes, increasing diversity of learners, and a growing complexity of teaching. Even in the face-to-face classrooms, teachers are hard-pressed to get to know each of their students well enough to provide appropriate flexibility of timing, approaches, and completion options. The laudable intentions of the “personalization” approach assume that every learner is able to identify what is meaningful and relevant when new ideas, concepts and content are shared. While the learner-centred interpretation of the three terms put forward by Bray and McClaskey are inspiring, I have had many students who weren’t focused enough on my course (among all the competing demands in their busy adult lives) to even want to achieve “mastery” or to take the time to monitor and reflect on their own learning.

And a challenge that is never mentioned in the articles and conversations about the benefits of personalization, is how do you keep track of what you’ve done, why, for whom, and whether and what they have achieved and how it relates to the stated outcomes of the syllabus? “Aha,” you might say. “There’s an app for that!” Technology is often cited as the answer to customizing learning for individuals.

Some practical examples of how “the machine” can identify problems (in curriculum) quickly, help to improve curriculum on the fly, and help an online instructor identify emergent or potential problems that individuals were presented several years ago by Stanford’s Daphne Koller in her popular What we’re learning from online education TED Talk. Since then the possibilities of machine-assisted teaching surround every conversation about how to help students learn and succeed. A more recent EDUCAUSE article, “How Personalized Learning Unlocks Student Success” provides a list of ways in which instructors can use machine-generated data to personalize learning activities and includes a Utopian vision of accessibility, enjoyment and positive partnerships between instructors, adaptive courseware and happy students.

If I sound a little skeptical of many of the claims of technology, it’s based on my experiences and observations. While technology makes it possible to provide amazing learning experiences and to manage the outcomes, we’re still learning how to use the tools well. The power, scope and potential of new technologies progresses faster than we seem to be able to respond – both in using those powers for positive effects and to protect our learners (and ourselves) from the potential harm and loss of privacy.

 


Header image: On-screen analytics @Jisc and Matt Lincoln and Teacher and learner group, @tamuc via Flickr, CCBY

eRefs

Alli, Nazeema, Rahim Rajan, Greg Ratliff (Mar 7, 2016) How Personalized Learning Unlocks Student Success, EDUCAUSE review, Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/3/how-personalized-learning-unlocks-student-success

Basye, Dale (Jan. 24, 2018) ISTE Blog – Education leadership, Personalized vs. differentiated vs. individualized learning, retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=124

Bray, Barbara and Kathleen McClaskey, (??) for Education Alberta, “Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization  https://education.alberta.ca/media/3069745/personalizationvsdifferentiationvsindividualization.pdf

Koller, Daphne (https://www.ted.com/talks/daphne_koller_what_we_re_learning_from_online_education)

Lam, Evelyn (Aug 31, 2016) Review:  Weapons of Math Destruction, Scientific American Blog, Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/roots-of-unity/review-weapons-of-math-destruction/

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, (2010) Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology (pdf) – https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED512681.pdf  (see p.12)
Note:  These periodic reports are referred to generally as National Education Technology Plans.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, (January 2017) Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education:  2017 National Technology Plan Update (pdf),  https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/NETP17.pdf (see p. 9 sidebar, Personalized Learning)

Why Nov 7 was a sad day

“Twitter officially expands its character count to 280 starting today”  Techcrunch

“Twitter is rolling out 280-character tweets around the world” The Verge

“Twitter’s 280-character limit comes to the masses” Engadget

“Twitter introduces 280 characters to all users”  The Independent

Although not one of those who “howled” in protest, I was saddened that Twitter executives expanded the service to allow 280 character tweets.

As a long-time tweeter (or “twit-r” as a friend suggested), I tested Twitter in 2009 because it was part of my role as a Distributed Learning educator – how could I help teachers teach with and through technologies, if I didn’t test out the possibilities of an increasingly popular social media tool?

I figuratively “held my nose” and posted my 1st tweet with tongue-in-cheek and behind-the-screen eye-rolling.  My savvy edtech friends laughed when I made the mistake of selecting “Northerntweeter” as a handle; I hadn’t realized that that would use up their character limits if they tried to direct tweet me.

I learned to think of Twitter as a place to “skim the waves” and to choose moments to step into the flood and just wait and watch what tumbled past me in the flood. I quickly discovered that my tweets were retweeted more often when I took some time to craft my message (not just meet the 140 limit).

Restrictions can push innovation; artists and architects know how to take the time to explore what can be done within the limits of certain spaces or tools to create unique perspectives or enrichments. Twitter’s 140 character limit has resulted in some amazingly powerful tweets, memes, haiku-like social commentary, and some hilarious misunderstandings.

I’m trying hard to keep an open mind but my sadness was not assuaged by articles that suggest that allowing people to play emojii games is a new value-added result.