Friday, November 20, 2009

Mind Mapping: A great waste of time?

I had a meeting with my thesis supervisor (Dr. David Ryan) last week. But before we spoke about resources or even discussed what I had already researched the conversation moved rapidly onto what topics and areas I would be including in my thesis. It was clear he wanted a few simple headings and topics that our conversation could be structured around - if only I had made a mindmap before the meeting!

I have been quite sceptical about mind maps in the past; I even dislike their name! I distinctly remember Mike Cosgrave's class in second year where the whole year had to make a plan using FreeMind of an essay. The software was easy to use and I liked the ability to create a simple "plan" for an essay - albeit for one I never had to do! The expereince highlighted the benefit of mind maps to me which I had used throughout my educational life; however it didn't convince me of the use of the software, why not just continue as I had always done using pen and paper?

In third year a group of my friends would often collaborate on work (we were in many of the same classes and societies), bouncing ideas off one another. Despite seeing each other every day, much of this discussion would take place online, as it could be recorded on Google Chat (allowing us to search later on for points or URLs), it would allow us to instantly search online for sources/quotes etc. We sometimes shared ideas using Google Documents which were essentially plans for essays, or bullet point mind maps. It made sense to make the plans digital as they could be shared so easily, but also they could be edited by one another.

The main benefit of XMind to my mind (sorry for the overuse of the word) is not that it is merely on your laptop wherever you are, but that you can upload your plan. Uploading a mind map online to make it accessible seems pointless if your plan is about a very specific thesis topic, but if it was on a topic in the national curriculum it has the potenial for being a very useful study aid. Sharing mind maps is useful, not just with strangers, but of most use is sharing it with your peers, which has the potential for collaboration, self-editing or positive critism.

I have uploaded a screen shot of my latest mind mapping experience. It is the document I should have brought with me to my meeting with my supervisor - a plan for my thesis (titled - "NATO Expansion in the 1990s").

It's useful as it forces me to priortise and divide ideas for my thesis into sections. I'm not going to discuss the crisis in the Balkans in the same paragraph as I discuss the domestic economic situation in the US, thus they are under seperate headings, also the Post-Cold War era as a concept is a main heading, while the need to reduce the importance of foreign policy to allow the US to focus on curing the nations social problems is of less importance. The mind map forces you to be explicit which is great to focus your mind on how to write the thesis. We write in sentances, paragraphs and chapters - something which mind mapping facilitates.

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