In a recent survey of faculty at my institution, this was one of the most frequently cited topics to learn more about, so I am taking a cue from this and will spend a few weekends briefly researching some of the tools available on the internet for collaboration and brainstorming.
I'll start by mentioning that some of the tools we've been discussing here in the last few months, such as wikis, project management, and interactive whiteboards, are often used collaboratively, so there's our first set of collaboration apps (I won't discuss these further here – feel free to click on those links to learn more about them). What other kinds of applications lend themselves well to collaboration in instructional environments? Since collaboration is a broad concept, this could lead us down many paths, as illustrated so effectively in this excellent collaboration tools diagram by Robin Good. For purposes of brevity I will stick with a small, focused set of tool types to investigate further, and avoid tools that easily fall into other, larger categories (for example, communication tools like IM and Chat certainly facilitate collaboration, but this is a category broad enough for independent investigation). For the next few weeks, we will narrow our focus specifically to these tool sets: Idea/Mind Mapping tools, Collaborative Documents, and Workgroup tools.
MIND MAPPING & IDEA MAPPING TOOLS
This first set of tools lend themselves readily to brainstorming and other collaborative efforts. There are dozens of applications on the Internet that fall into this group. Here are a few tools I have frequently come across mention of on sites focused on the use of internet technologies in education: Bubble.us, Mindmeister.com, and Mindmapper.com.
Bubbl.us (note that this is spelled correctly – there is no “e”): This free tool allows users to easily create bubble maps, which can be exported in various formats, saved (by exporting and reimporting them in an appropriate format), and edited collaboratively. I found it very easy to use. There was no apparent “help” tool, but I found some helpful information available at blog.bubbl.us. Included there was this explanation from Ben Davis about how Bubble.us helped his students to network, “Typically I have trouble getting them to get excited about word webs. However, they were VERY excited about doing this. The guys loved how the bubbles exploded when you deleted them, and the girls loved the colors. However, the thing they seemed most interested in was the fact that they could network.”
Mindmeister.com: Mindmeister appears to provide similar functionality to Bubbl.us, for a fee. A free 30 day trial is provided, and for academic users there is a highly reduced fee, and a custom subdomain can be licensed. Mindmeister has received a number of awards. “Demogirl.com” has made this brief (3 minute) video available to provide some quick insight into this application.
Mindmapper.com: This is another application that charges, but also provides a free trial, and a reduced fee for academic use. This is an impressive looking site, with an array of offerings, support, FAQs, and much more. The product comes in Professional, Standard, and Academic versions, as well as MindMapper Jr. for kids. There is a Feature Comparison chart to help users determine which product offering might be best for them. Frankly, it looked like a pretty significant investment in time was necessary just to understand the various versions of the product and what they had to offer, but at the same time, it appeared that this site may meet more sophisticated requirements than the simpler sites mentioned above. A “deeper dive” may be warranted in a future posting.
If you want to try this category of software out, you can hardly go wrong with Bubbl.us. If it's feature set isn't rich enough, you can trial one of the other tools above. To investigate this category of application even further, Wikipedia's list of mind mapping software is a great resource.
Next week we'll provide an overview of a few tools for collaboratively creating and editing documents (like Google Documents and similar offerings). Please come back and learn more about these exciting and useful applications. In the meanwhile, feel free to comment and add your insights about tools like these that you have used, or any other relevant thoughts or observations. Thanks!