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Mind Maps and Other Organizers

The thoughts for this week are in response to:
In your blog: how might you digital note-taking tools (see links on the wiki) to have your students take notes/engage in prewriting activities? Create a digital map using Inspiration (use a free trial download: about your potential final project topic; reflect on how you could use digital mapping for helping students exploring relationships between different topics/images.
I have to admit that I need more time to experiment with Inspiration 8, as well as other tools, because I am fairly set in my own note taking ways. Until I gather my thoughts a bit more, I can at least explain my own habits and my personal views on software tools.

Before I start, I'll make a pitch: If you use a Mac, the Omni Group makes some of the best organizational tools I have used. ( I like the fact Omni applications do not “feel” like PC software ported to the Mac — these are OS X applications from top to bottom.

I love Word's “Notebook View” on the Mac.
I use the Notebook View in Word in every course I take. I tried adopting OmniOutliner, which is a great program, but there are some Word features I use so often that not having them in OO was annoying. On Windows, the Notebook View would be analogous to OneNote, which comes with Office for Students, I believe.

There are times when OO is a better choice than Word. You can configure multiple columns with special features in OO, which is a really slick ability. I use checkboxes, pop-up lists, and even attachments.

What? Attachments? Yes, you can link OO line items to files! So, if I have a point that refers to an Excel file, I can "attach" the file to my outline. That's a great tool.

If only I could mix the best of Word and OO, I'd be set.

Notes help me a lot, even when I am planning a project. I take a lot of notes, make lists, and consider what will and will not work.

OmniGraffle and Visio are good if I must be graphical.
I'm not into random "clouds" or maps — I like linear organization and nice, neat lines. Anything random upsets me, literally. OmniGraffle, which is like Visio in many ways, helps me create perfect flowcharts and diagrams, aligned with a grid and connecting items via “snaps” that are always on corners or centers of sides.

Other Thoughts
I am not one for “freewriting” or other forms of brainstorming. I like to think slowly, carefully, and develop my thoughts internally. I think that is what makes me a decent writer and a good programmer. Maybe free associations and random thoughts work for others, but I need to pause and reflect on every thought. Even the nature of blog postings makes me uncomfortable at times; I like to edit my words multiple times, revising word choices and sentences.

To assume that mapping, clouds, freewriting, and other tasks will help students is to assume a great deal about the nature of human thought. I often wrote stories, and then outlined them, to please teachers. I would do this because they insisted you could only write if you had completed the various pre-writing tasks. Nonsense, for me, and I have my earliest notebooks from elementary school and junior high to show that wrote complete stories without such tasks on paper.

This does not mean that I did not pre-write in my mind, but it means that putting the thoughts on paper needed to be done in completed story form. If I tried their approach, I would waste hours trying to get circles and lines perfectly placed on a page. I'd spend so much time with the need for visual perfection that my anxiety would overwhelm me.

Software tools for planning my writing have had much the same result. I end up trying to perfect designs in the applications instead of getting to work. There's little benefit in being frustrated and overwhelmed by “planning” when I already have a completed story or most of a paper outlined in my mind.

Then again, not everyone can “see” computer code executing in their mind, either...


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