Link Roundup #5

$99 Tablets and the Fine Line Between Useful and Useless. Tablets this cheap are bound to be used in the education market. This article provides a good summary of the pros and cons.

Dell Aims New Affordable Windows 8 Tablet at Schools, Hospitals, and Small Businesses.  Not sure I find $499 that affordable, but it is better by far than the prices for other Windows tablets.

OLPC Vows to Bring New Education Tablet to Retail Stores Later This Year. OLPC stands for One Laptop Per Child.

Surface Pro: Even Microsoft’s Own Tablet Can’t Solve Windows 8 Intrinsic Flaws. Detailed review of the Pro tablet, and a reasonably objective one. Another noteworthy review is from David Pogue in the New York Times.

40 Best Windows Phone Apps of 2012. Straight list, 1-40, not categorized, sadly.

Firefox 19 Betas: Built-in PDF viewing, Broader Android Reach. Article mentions Safari and Chrome already have built-in PDF viewers, so all three browsers can bypass the Adobe Reader.

Asus Looks to Tap Emerging Markets with $149 Jelly Bean Tablet. Jelly Bean is the latest version of the Android operating system. This looks like it will be another competitor in the education market.

5 Tactics for Managing the Overwhelm. Useful, though not particularly new ideas, and won’t work for all jobs. The author does mention a couple of useful sources, including the book The Power of Habit, and the blog by the gentleman who runs the Persuasive Technology lab at Stanford.

Free Version of Foxit Mobile PDF Reader Now Available for Android. Brief review that does a good job of covering the features offered. The reader is also available for iOS, and for both platforms a free version and a paid version are available. Other sources agree this is one of the best PDF readers.

Apple Could Be Working on 128G iPad for Government and Education Uses. Will be expensive, of course, but could be a good option for students and faculty.

Here’s the beginnings of a great idea – a group has formed called AQuA, the App Quality Alliance. They have begun a Quality App Directory, described as “a directory of mobile apps that have met a certain quality level: a quality level specified by the AQuA members: AT&T, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Oracle, Orange, Samsung and Sony Mobile.” You can search by app title, suitable device, or developer. Would like to see them devise categories for apps, but I guess that’s the librarian in me.

EndNote now has an iPad app.

We here at PKM are big fans of the Gradhacker and Profhacker blogs. We submit for your consideration this post, Turn Your Phone into a Scanner.

Quality ranking of apps seems to be the new buzzword, and about time. See New Analytics Service Applause Ranks App Quality. Talks about the Applause service and the criteria it uses for judging app quality.

Thomson Reuters has introduced a mobile app for Web of Science, so far iPhone only.

Year for Productivity Session 3: Email: To Zero or not to zero… that is one of the questions..

year_productivity_graphic_3

When discussions commence about the topic of productivity, inevitably the topic of email overload is soon a focus of discussion. We have hundreds (or thousands for some people) of emails in various work and personal accounts cluttering up our mailboxes and our minds every day. We have devices that allow us to stay in contact with email wherever we go and it is almost impossible to avoid the sight of individuals tapping and scrolling through their mobile devices, either trying to keep up with the pace of the information or compulsively checking to be sure they find and read critical messages as soon as they appear.

There are several prominent techniques to address the issue of email overload:

That First Hour of the Day:

Popular productivity theory urges individuals to carve away a significant block of time at the start of the day to work on projects, deferring the lure of signing into email until a later time.   There are a number of benefits by cultivating this habit.  First, in most offices, the first hour of the day is often a quiet time with few meetings: a time tailor-made to focus on achieving top tasks from your to-do list.  Second, email is a place where other people are requesting your attention and time on items from THEIR to-do lists, not yours, and you find yourself becoming a person who is focused on reacting to others instead of proactively furthering your goals.  Tim Ferriss calls it “being a slave to your inbox” in his popular book, “The Four Hour Work Week.”   Finally, have you ever looked up from your email to realize that hours have passed and your goals for the day are yet to be started?  Email can be quicksand to your time management goals.

Inbox Zero:

The Inbox Zero phenomenon is most often credited to Merlin Mann, who in 2007 authored a series of posts on the 43 Folders website.  The series, entitled Inbox Zero, described in great detail Mann’s theory of improving productivity by handling email once, sorting, storing, deleting and taking action as needed based on the email content.   His daily goal was maintaining a totally empty inbox.  His methodology is based on the concepts put forth in David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done”, which focused more on productivity using a paper/pencil organization system.  Mann’s 43 Folders website transferred those concepts to the work world online.

I highly recommend Merlin Mann’s Google Tech Talk in our Selected Readings section.  He does an excellent job of making the Inbox Zero method sensible and doable. One question asked of Mann is a common concern:  Everyone expects me to see communications immediately… I can’t only look a few times a day!  Mann  suggests, as do I, to initiate a conversation with your work team and your manager.  Agree on what reasonable expectations are and then work from that point.

But I have HUNDREDS of emails in my inbox!  How could I ever find time to even ATTEMPT a Zero inbox?  Let me share one technique that I have used to “start over” with a zero box.  The first time I attempted zero inbox I first sorted my inbox by date.  I created a folder called “inbox prior to xxxx” (ie, prior to this year). I then moved all emails fitting that criterion into that folder.  I then ignored that folder going forward.  If there were emails there that I truly still needed, they would turn up in a search at some point.  Then I could move that email to a proper folder for filing, or deal with it and delete.  Now my inbox has only the current year emails.  If this is still a massive number, you could repeat the process, creating quarterly folders and then only working thru one quarter at a time, starting with the most recent.  Schedule yourself a half hour several afternoons a week to sort out those more recent emails and clear them out so that you are left with the one prior years folder.  This chunking method can allow you to make a “fresh start” on the Zero Inbox.

Automatic Sorting of Emails:

Another technique that offers a valuable alternative to the overflowing inbox is using folders, tags, rules and filters to organize emails.  People who have been working with the Inbox Zero method have already begun making a few folders.  Now your own personal preference comes into play.  How do you think? I find it very productive to have a larger number of folders that are nested and arranged by topic.  This gives me a bird’s eye view of my information and I can locate information quickly.  Other people become bogged down with trying to develop a folder scheme and then debating over where each email should go.  Use trial and error and some self-understanding of how you work most comfortably to choose the method that works best for you.  Regardless of your choices, understanding the technical capabilities of your email system and how foldering/tagging and filters work is important.   If you haven’t used filters yet, you are missing out on a powerful way to jump-start your daily email sorting.

You already have one major filter that came with your email system, even though you might not think of it as such.  Email systems have become much more sophisticated in recognizing spam and automatically rout spam emails to a SPAM folder.  You never have to see or sort these emails because the email system has already done it for you.  Filters that you create can be equally powerful allies in presorting certain emails.  Perhaps you’d like a “Reading Bin” filter that sent a predefined group of email addresses to a folder for reading later.  This might be useful for listserv emails, university newsletters, etc.  Once you then schedule a time once or twice a week to scan through this folder, you have successfully removed a large block of “noise” and time-diverting temptation from your daily schedule.  In our Selected Readings section, I have identified links to tutorials on how to create filters for several of the most popular email systems.

In addition to creating your own filters, there are also several applications available on the web that will create categories of filters and prefilter your email for you.  ActiveInbox is specifically designed to work with Gmail, and comes with both a free, and a paid version that has additional features.  OtherInbox offers an organizer that works on Gmail, Yahoo mail, Hotmail and AOL platforms.  I have been experimenting with this latter service and it has some positives and some negatives.  I plan to publish a Tuesday Tool Tip next week describing my experiences with this tool in depth.

As with all of the tools and techniques that we will discuss in this series, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  Our goal is to provide some alternatives and to encourage people to think about their situations and needs.  What might be a perfectly good answer for private email accounts might not be appropriate for work accounts or vise versa.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

  1. The author of the Getting Things Done: My Experiences using GTD” blog has a post entitled “Evolution of my email setup”  Read this article and write a short accounting of how you would describe your email evolution. Are you a slave to your inbox?
  2. Investigate the tutorials / help sections for your particular email system.  I’ve provided links to several systems in the Selected Reading section below.  Spend a little time and experiment with creating a filter for a category of emails that you want to read but don’t want to interrupt you every day when they arrive. Add an appointment to your calendar to remind you to review that filtered folder at another specified time.
  3. Explore the Inbox Zero resources.  Is Merlin Mann’s technique something you would like to try? Think about ways to chunk the initial setup process to make it more doable for you and your email.
  4. Share!  What helpful hints, techniques, or articles/blog posts would you like to share with the rest of us?

Selected Readings:

General articles on email overload:

Camargo, M.R. (2008). “A grounded theory study of the relationship between e-mail and burnout ” Information Research13(4) paper 383. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/13-4/paper383.html]

Whittaker S. & Sidner C. (1996). E-mail overload: exploring personal information management of e-mail. In S. Kiesler, (Ed.) Culture of the Internet. (pp. 276-295). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Ducheneaut, N.B. & Bellotti, V. (2001). E-mail as habitat. An exploration of embedded personal information managementACM Interactions8(3), 30-38. Retrieved July 20, 2004, from http://www.parc.com/research/publications/files/4360.pdf

Inbox Zero:

The Inbox Zero Portal:  This portal contains links to the video of Merlin Mann’s original Google Tech Talk from July 23, 2007 on Inbox Zero and also links to his Inbox Zero blog post series:  http://inboxzero.com/

If you have a Gmail account, you can experiment with the Inbox Zero method by playing Baydin’s Email Game program.

http://www.alexandrasamuel.com/series/7-days-inbox-zero : 7 blog posts discussing one person’s process of converting to the  inbox zero method:  Days 5 &6 in particular discuss GMAIL filters in detail.

 Filters, Folders, Tags, Rules, etc Tutorials and Guides:

Yahoo: 

http://help.yahoo.com/tutorials/mmail/mmail/mm_filter1.html

 Google: (Filters, labels)

http://support.google.com/mail/bin/topic.py?hl=en&topic=1669016&parent=1668946&ctx=topic

http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2012/03/28/50-tips-to-turn-gmail-into-a-productivity-machine/

http://leobabauta.com/gm

http://lifehacker.com/5861810/master-the-new-gmail-with-these-tips-shortcuts-and-add+ons

Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail: 

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/set-email-filters-gmail-hotmail-yahoo/

 Thunderbird: 

http://kb.mozillazine.org/Message_Filters

 Zimbra:  

Making Sense of email overload: conversations & activity streams- Zimbra 8:
http://blog.zimbra.com/blog/archives/2012/09/making-sense-of-email-overload-with-zimbra-8.html

Organizing Emails: Folders, Filters and Tags in Zimbra:
http://www.zimbra.com/docs/user_guide/latest/wwhelp/wwhimpl/js/html/wwhelp.htm#href=7_0%20ZWC_User_Guide.Organizing%20Email%20Messages%20Using%20Folders.html

Zimbra Video Tutorials:
http://help.zimbra.com/videos/7x/

 

Calendar Image courtesy of ammer/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Tuesday Tool Tip: Cmap

monkey computer toolsCmap: Free and easy tool for concept mapping

I was wrong; it happens sometimes.  I have avoided trying out Cmap for years because I assumed that something developed at an Institute for Human and Machine Cognition would be arcane, hard to use, and meant only for those who could spend days setting it up, had administrative access to servers, or would be willing to live on discussion lists with hard-core techies until they could figure it out.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken.  IHMC is affiliated with the Florida University system, and they have developed a free tool you can figure out, by yourself, in a couple hours.  Right now, Cmap seems to be the concept mapping tool I have been seeking for a long time, something I can heartily recommend to students and faculty.

It’s free for everyone (I know, I said that already, but I want to repeat it).
It’s simple but flexible.
You can attach files of different types (pdfs, images, spreadsheets) as well as embed urls.
You can easily share your work with other people.
Supports reciprocal relationships and non-hierarchical relationships, so can be used to model reasonably complex systems; you can also hide nodes and link nodes between maps to deal with increasing complexity.
There’s good documentation.

WOW!

So here’s what I did this afternoon, in about 2 hours, removing time spent on lunch and meetings:Concept map made using Cmap

This is just a very simple example to show some of its features.

Concept maps are important, both in education and in personal knowledge management, because they help us make order out of our information; they are a step in the direction of making sense of all the material that we are trying to relate.  They force us to surface our assumptions, clarify relationships, and help us place new material in the context of what we already know.David Hyerle calls them tools for “thinking about the box” (Visual Tools for Transforming Information into Knowledge, 91).

Further reading:

Novak, Joseph D. Learning, Creating, and Using Knowledge: Concept Maps as Facilitative Tools in Schools and Corporations.  Second edition. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Novak, Joseph D. and Cañas, Alberto J. “The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them.” Technical Report IHMC Cmap Tools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008.

Teaching and Learning with Concept Maps at Inspiration Software, a big player in the K-12 mind mapping and concept mapping market.  They have a product meant for higher education, called Inspiration Pro, available by subscription.  You can save your maps only online, and once you give up your subscription you lose access to your maps.  Additionally, you cannot attach documents to your maps (except other Inspiration maps and weblinks) – no pdfs, word processing or spreadsheet files, which seriously limits their usefulness.

 

 

 

 

Year for Productivity: Session 2: May I Have Your Attention?

Year for Productivity Session 2

Remember the old joke “SEX!  Now that I’ve got your attention…”?  It turns out that this is a humorous but accurate description of how the brain works.  When human brains evolved, they did so where needs were basic.  When we consider the environment in which ancient man lived, this meant needing to focus on first identifying danger, then food, and so on.  Paying attention to every blade of grass, every tree, every cloud in the sky would have meant not noticing the saber-toothed tiger stalking you.  There are several key aspects of “attention”. First is the fact that it functions to filter out information, not let it in  (Davenport, p. 58).

Another article discusses the neuroscience of attention:

Getting Past the  First Roadblock – Reticular Activating System (RAS) According to Willis, at any given moment only about 2,000 bits out of the  millions of discrete pieces of information that our senses  are constantly bombarded with can reach our  conscious attention. The gatekeeper that decides what gets through is the RAS,  located in the brain stem. This primitive part of the brain works in much the  same way that it has since our human ancestors were hiding in caves and running  for their lives from better-equipped predators.  This part of the brain is regulated by our  basic survival instincts to notice what has changed or is different in our  environment. When something new is present it is given the highest priority for  our perception, particularly if it is perceived as a possible threat.

This leads to the second most important fact: attention, like time, is finite, and there is no magic solution that will give more of it.  The concept of attention management grew out of this hard fact.   Management consultants and researchers Thomas Davenport and John Beck first popularized the term. They studied it from the perspective of how organizations become more successful as they become more proficient in focusing the attention of the group and the individuals who are part of it.

Davenport and Beck (p. 20) define attention:

Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information.  Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act.

Attention is thus tied to information.  Consider the implications of the following: “The Sunday New York Times contains more factual information in one edition than in all the written work available to a reader in the fifteenth century” (Davenport, p. 4).  We’ve all been discussing information overload for years, but the concept of attention management is essential to understanding that our personal productivity is a matter of what we choose to give our attention to, and whether the most important priorities receive the most attention.

Information overload is certainly part of the equation.  We’ve all seen masses of infographics about the rate that knowledge is increasing, and with the advent of the web it is coming at us from so many more directions.  What is important here is the psychological effect of so much information, which for most people results in the feeling of being overwhelmed.

In the excellent book Personal Productivity Secrets, Maura Thomas talks about the Lion Syndrome.  Lion tamers use a chair or stool and point the legs at the lion, who sees four separate and equal threats and backs away in confusion, unable to decide which to attack (p. 42).  So when faced with overwhelming information, we often turn our attention not to our highest priorities, but to the easiest thing to deal with, usually email.

The book asks a number of questions to determine if you have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  I was appalled to find myself answering every question yes, but the author goes on to the conclusion that many of  us have a culturally-induced version of ADD brought on by our hyper-connected world.  A result is that most of us start the morning with email or other forms of communication and wind up reacting to the needs of others and at the end of the day can’t recall or articulate what we actually accomplished (Thomas, p. 19)

One response to this infinity of things needing our attention is that the concept of multitasking has become the battle cry.  There’s so much to be done, and I can do more than one thing at a time!  Sadly, the brain doesn’t work that way.  Dave Crenshaw in The Myth of Multitasking explains it in terms of switching costs.  The brain can’t focus on more than one thing at a time unless the second thing requires little conscious thought.  Moreover, as the brain switches from one task to another, it takes a while to find its place.  The more switches, the more time spent reorienting to the next task, therefore multitasking takes more time than focusing on one thing through completion and then moving to the next.

A number of books have been published lamenting that being always connected leaves one without time for reflection, the deep thinking from which creativity and inspiration spring.  It is why many of us these days find our most useful ideas occur to us in the shower where there are no distractions (though sadly no easy, or dry, way to capture those moments of inspiration).

William Powers, author of  Hamlet’s Blackberry, is not alone in advocating that we schedule into our lives some unconnected time, in order to have those moments of reflection and creativity – or to have more “face time” with the people we are closest to.  Doing so is challenging because, as neuroscientists are finding, our brains get addicted to many kinds of stimuli, anything from narcotics to gambling to chocolate to constantly checking if we have new email, or new Facebook updates.  So it may take effort to adjust to unconnected time.

A good plan to start with is to create to-do lists.  One of our upcoming lessons is on that topic, so more details then.  One of our suggested readings this lesson is Personal Productivity Secrets.  In it Thomas sets out the challenges covered briefly here and has a detailed plan for redesigning one’s work life to be most efficient AND (cue fireworks) actually achieve one’s highest priorities.

Paying attention in a hyper-connected world is like herding cats…if the cats are on a stampede through your brain.  Throughout this course we will focus on tools and concepts for improving productivity, and an essential prerequisite is knowing that what you choose to pay attention to determines your productiveness.

Selected Readings:

Attention Management Blog (http://attnmgmtblog.com/). Aggregates and edits posts from other sources on attention management.

Crenshaw, D. (2008). The myth of multitasking: How doing it all gets nothing done. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (Only 68 pages, worth reading in its entirety). He has a good 20 minute video on YouTube on the same topic:
Davenport, T. H., & Beck, J. C. (2001). The attention economy: Understanding the new currency of business. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, ch. 1-5.

Goodman, N. “How to Train Your Brain to Stay Focused“. Brief post with some excellent ideas.

Hatmaker, T. How Mind-Controlled Games Work – and Why It Is Way Bigger than That. The most interesting part is near the end, starting with the Future of the Future section, in a discussion about being able to retrain how the brain pays attention.

Renfro, C. Time Management or Focus Management?

Thomas, M. (2012). Personal productivity secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention … and regain control of your life. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley. Her blog has several additional timely articles on attention management.

For Fun:

Pickpockets, Attention, and Neuroscience: A Demonstration – http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/01/04/pickpockets-attention-and-neuroscience-a-demonstration/  Fascinating fun piece about Apollo Robbins.  The video is a wild demonstration of the art of distracting attention.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  For two days, keep a log of your activities at work.  Write down everything. Also, for this step and for step 2, notice when your energy peaks and when it is at its lowest point.
(2)  The next two work days, start the day by writing a list of things you need to accomplish, and mark them off as you do them.
(3)  Compare the four days.  Did you accomplish more when writing a list of goals to be accomplished?  Did it help you clarify in your mind what needed to be done?  Did you act more and react less? Is your energy best in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Can you schedule your creative time when your energy peaks?

 

Calendar Image courtesy of ammer/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Link Roundup #4

western saddle with a lasso on it Australian University to Roll Out 11,000 iPads to Students and Staff Next Year. Article also mentions other schools/school systems that are deploying iPads. Nice that they included staff as well as students, a necessary step if professors are to develop course-related materials for the iPad.

Mapsaurus – Find Android Apps Based On Your Interests. Nice idea, an app that suggests other apps you might find useful based on the apps you have installed. I found this on Android 4 Schools, a website/newsletter aimed at the K-12 educational community, but I’ve found a surprising number of apps through it that I think are useful to the higher education community as well.

TabTimes Presents the Best 100 iPad Apps. “If you want to get the most from your iPad, the TabTimes 100 Best iPad Apps is your guide to the best apps for business and productivity. Over the next week, we’ll be featuring the 9 app categories (Utilities, Presentations, Healthcare & Medical, Writing & Editing, Reference, Productivity, Financial, Collaboration, and News).”

5 Best Presentation Apps for iPad. Covers Slideshark, Keynote, TelePromt+, Prezi Viewer, and SyncSpace.

20 Best iPad Productivity Apps

WordPress Plugins – Be Smart about the Ones You Install
. Post with good common sense advice on installing plugins. I am still learning WordPress and good advice on it is gold. Just found out that after updating a plugin you have to reactivate it.

Best New iPad Apps: Notes for Public Speakers, MindJet Task Management, Tablet Blogging, and Vinyl Music 2.0 The first 2, and maybe the third, can be useful for productivity and academic workflow. The first, Speeches, lets you create cue cards for speeches/presentations.

Yes, I get the TabTimes newsletter, why do you ask? ;-). I have put a lot of links there to iPad apps, but they also cover Windows 8 tablet news (such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro Tablet to ‘Arrive at the End of January’ They do not report as much on Android tablets, sadly, though their website has an Android section.

As for the date the Surface pro tablet will be released, CNET has more details.

Android or Chrome? Will Google Ever Decide on One OS? This is one of CNET’s Ask Maggie columns, by Marguerite Reardon. She writes well in language aimed at the lay person.

Top 5 Android Phones for 2013. Or at least for today. With Android phones, as he mentions, the day after you buy yours a better one comes out, sigh. I’ve been getting Bob Rankin’s newsletter for years, since way, way back in the age of dinosaurs and he was one of the two authors of Internet Tourbus. Now his newsletter is on technology, and he, like Reardon, is good at explaining tech to the layperson.

Seton Hall University Tries Them All, Picks Windows 8 Tablets. Interesting story about pilot projects at Seton Hall University. They have been early adapters of iPads, Android tablets, and Windows tablets, and have had the most success with Windows tablets with a dock.

Sensemaking through knowledge mapping

Knowledge maps fascinate me.  I started out repelled by certain visual representations of information in my first career (in international development); I just detested a particular working paper of one important organization which had as its cover design a project management flow chart.  Yet I live by organization charts, and I can’t keep away from the Literature-Map, which is a dynamic vjsual representation of how likely people associated with the site are to like sets of authors.

Now I have been asked to teach concept mapping to students in one of our doctoral programs.  I often wonder why more librarians aren’t involved in teaching information/knowledge mapping techniques, which I find to be very useful tools in the sensemaking process.  In this post, I’d like to begin to dissect the broad field of knowledge mapping, exploring several types of mapping tools and their applications.

There are many different ways to slice and dice information or knowledge mapping tools, and a lot of different names for them (see for example WikiIT for other terms and ways to think about types of knowledge maps).  “Mind mapping” is a term most people in education are familiar with, in either the strict (and trademarked) sense defined by Tony Buzan (ThinkBuzan.com and Tony Buzan, Inventor of Mind Mapping) or the more common usage by a multiplicity of software companies in the project management market.  Concept mapping and argument mapping/issue mapping/dialogue mapping are tools for special purposes, much less well know outside their niches.  I prefer the overall term knowledge mapping to information mapping.  Others prefer knowledge cartography (Okada, Buckingham Shum, and Sherbourne, 2008), a term which incorporates knowledge rather than information and avoids the already claimed KM acronym.

What knowledge mapping tools share is use of the mapping metaphor to bring relationships into prominence.  Few words are used, and therefore they must be well chosen.  Relationships may be indicated by labels (concept maps), or just by proximity or connecting lines.  In some maps, pictures or symbols add meaning.

I like the way David Hyerle (2009) categorizes mapping (or visual) tools into those oriented toward facilitating creativity, those meant for analysis, and those meant for synthesis.  To these I add a category of tools for organizing large collections of resources.  It’s possible to break these categories down further, but I think these provide enough for some orientation to their value.

In this post, I want to give an overview of each kind of tool; in later posts, I will discuss each in more detail.

Mapping tools for creativity are often called mind mappers.  While there are now many software tools, the activity can easily and sometimes more productively be done manually.  A large whiteboard, a wall of whiteboard paint, flip chart paper taped up on a wall, or plenty of sticky notes can all provide great media, and some people find them more conducive to the thinking process than software.

Source: My Thoughts Mind Map

How to Mind Map

This map shows use of color, images and interconnections, all typical features of mind maps.  (“How to Mind Map – MyThoughts for Mac” from MyThoughtsMindMaps’ Photostream, used under a Creative Commons Attribution – NonCommercial – NoDerivs 2.0 license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode)

Analytic maps often resemble visual versions of outlines.  They can be applied to research projects, or indeed any kind of project, breaking down the project or process into steps to be taken. I teach the library research process using a double-sided map, wherein the left side is the library research process and the right side the outline of the paper:

Research plan map

Research plan map

 

Maps for synthesis include a number of subcategories such as concept mapping and mapping of complex, iterative dialogues.  The latter can be used in decision making processes where stakeholders have different values as well as varying points of view, and where it isn’t possible to define a problem in a simple fashion, without multiple attempts at understanding the nature of the problem itself.  Concept mapping is similar in that, in the process of understanding a complex field, one makes multiple attempts to state the problem as well as to identify the proper constituent parts and their relationships, which may have complex interrelationships rather than simple hierarchical correspondences.

In this concept map I made to explain concept maps to students, note that each relationship is labeled.  This map shows fairly simple relationships, but entities in concept maps can have multiple parents and circular relationships:

Concept map

(You can see a better version of this here).

Maps for organizing large collections Most librarians have personal sets of resources.  Some of us are satisfied by keeping them in notebook form; others, more visually oriented (like me), like the map style but have collections that are too large for static maps.  For these collections, dynamic, web-type software can be extremely useful.  Like concept mapping software, this allows you to make connections every which way (the technical term).  On a static map, you’d go farther and farther out on a branch, or scroll farther down a page, losing the view of the rest of your map; in a dynamic map (like the literature map linked in the first paragraph), the map re-centers at every click, giving you a new view oriented around your current focus.

It’s hard to imagine how these work without seeing them in action, but here are two screen shots from one of my all-purpose webs, from a section on mapping tools:

 

Mind mapping

The first image is centered around the term “mind mapping;” in the second, I have clicked on its child, “programs,” giving a related but different view:

Programs

As Tom Anders observed on a comment on an earlier post of mine, it’s hard to find one mapping tool that could serve all purposes equally well, and that’s frustrating.  But this is how I divide up the world of knowledge mapping:

Tools for

  • Creativity
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Organizing large collections

References:

Hyerle, D. (2009). Visual tools for transforming information into knowledge. Thousand Oaks, CA : Corwin Press.

Okada, Alexandra, Buckingham Shum, Simon, and Sherbourne, Tony. (Eds.). (2008). Knowledge cartography : software tools and mapping techniques. London, England: Springer.