Visual Thinking & Tools Discussion

A tweet by @WhyHereNow (Brooke Bryan) “thinking about how we create tools to do things, then the tools come to change the things that we do. #thatcamp spurred me to suggest a discussion about using visualization tools like mind maps or concept maps or other graphical diagrams to augment research, information management, collaboration, as well as other work processes.

I have personally used mind maps to brainstorm ideas for a long time. Lately I take the early model and expand it into a visual notebook to store collected materials as well as do quick show and tell for colleagues. Recently I learned how to use multi dimensional maps for analytical purposes using the Issue Based Information System methodology.

Mind maps can be much more than quick brainstorm sketches. The available range of stand-alone and networked applications, along with a host of Web 2.0 mapping tools continue to expand. The many ways these tools are being used, with the tips and tricks of the experts, and with advice about which one to use for what result are bits of information that really ought to be shared.

So, I’m proposing an informal session that could grow into an online annotated check list of tools, or at least or at least contribute to another resource like Digital Research Tools (DiRT).

14 Responses to “Visual Thinking & Tools Discussion”

  1. brooke Says:

    thanks for picking that idea up. it’s really a classic science & technology question that has a lot of merit in the digital humanities, i think.

    mind mapping is one of those things i love the *idea* of, but i usually feel that the tools seem inadequate at first glance- more stifling than enabling.

    that said, as a classics/great books student, i wish i would have had some sort of visual working map of the history of ideas- or had created one during the year and a half sequence of courses i took.

    i think there is much to be hashed out on this topic- looking forward to meeting! (meanwhile, i’m checking out, which i think has great potential as a mapping tool)

  2. ghbrett Says:

    I haven’t dealt too much with MIT’s SIMILE project, but I do know that one if the plugins can produce timelines.
    SIMILE timeline Plugin:

    I’d suggest you have a look at Compendium for a different kind of mind map.
    Showcase of Various Samples:
    — There is one sample on literature analysis with a supporting white paper
    Compendium in OpenLearn at the Open University in UK:

    Just a couple thoughts to play with.

    RE: Prezi — it is very cool, but I think it’s like a film or play in that to have good effect it needs a not only a script, but also blocking (as in stage movements) of the actor Objects. Reminds me of Brenda Laurel’s book, “Computers as Theater” publ. 1991. If you want, I can bring my copy for you to have a look at.

    One last note on maps. I see Andrew Turner will be attending. He is a Neo-Geographer who has wonderful new viewpoint on GIS, Google Mashups, and digital mapping in general. As for me, I have a lot of olde books that still have good stuff that I can bring along and hide in trunk of my car. (grin).

  3. Arden Kirkland Says:

    I find mind maps really interesting – I found out about them through my Mom, who taught English in a public high school and had an inclusion classroom for her last few years before retirement. I think they’re a great example of finding what works for your brain, to help you visualize/understand something. Personally, for my brain, they seem more confusing than helpful, but I know others benefit greatly from them. I think it continues the argument of presenting material in many different ways, so that more people with different learning styles are likely to get it.

    Also, as someone who’s trained as a theatrical costume designer, “Computers as Theater” sounds fascinating! May explain why my interests have turned digital – I’m checking it out of Vassar’s library tomorrow!

  4. jackpark Says:

    See also , a tool that allows you to annotate (lift ideas and questions) web pages, then wire those annotations into a graph similar to the IBIS tools using coherence relations that go beyond those of argumentation.

  5. ghbrett Says:

    Arden — your mention of English Class in high school reminds me of one of my early graphic diagramming practices. I don’t see any Ajax diagramming apps so far, but there are a couple sites with examples: and

    You mentioned that mindmaps are confusing for your more than helpful. That’s one reason I have used FreeMind for a couple talks I have presented using the mindmap instead of powerpoint slides. I explore down the branches as the topics. As I run out of time, instead of flipping through slides, I just show less content. But, back to your issue — the visual mess of the spider’s web. Well FreeMind also produces dynamic outlines so readers can follow along by opening and closing the various levels of the outline which has same content as the visual map. Here’s a link to a talk I present at NSF last year with both types of presentation:

    Jack, thanks for the info on Cohere. I worked with it a little bit last year. I found it didn’t meet my needs, but that’s one of the neat things about the growing variety of these tools is that eventually something will come along that does work the way you do.

    ps: My bookmarks for mindmapping:

  6. Sherman Dorn Says:

    I agree with Brooke: the mind-map/conceptual-map idea is interesting in theory, but the tools are too clunky for my lazy fingers, and I’m not sure it’s exactly the way my brain would map things.

  7. ghbrett Says:

    Sherman, I have one friend, an instructional systems designer, who does mind mapping but refuses to use digital software. She uses large easel pads and color markers. She says the computer is 1) too slow, 2) she wants the physical connection, and 3) she likes the large scale of the easel paper.

  8. ghbrett Says:

    Couple more pointers on timelines —

    Prior Art: “Lifestreams was invented by Eric Freeman and David Gelernter as a network-centric replacement for the desktop metaphor.” and “Lifestreams is built on a simple storage metaphor — a time-ordered stream of documents combined with several powerful operators….”

    Web 2.0 App: — just stumbled on this. User Interface needs work, but I’m liking the idea cause it can layer multiple users input on one stream. Kind of a take off of Lifestreams above.

    Plus I know some of the mindmap apps will create visual timelines.

  9. joguldi Says:

    I’ve been using PersonalBrain with a lot of joy for about a year now.

    I’m also experimenting with MindManager.

    My hunch is that, like a lot of things, each tool is best applied to a specific set of tasks; MindManager is a better outliner; Personal Brain is a better rolodex.

    Great subject, and I’d be happy to join a conference on this!

  10. Karin Dalziel Says:

    I’m a big fan of mind maps, but have never found software I like. A big piece of paper or a whiteboard work great for me. I take a picture of the whiteboard after I am done to preserve it.

    A related topic that occurs to me (though this may be more “education” than digital humanities) is that this has a lot to do with what kind of learner you are. Visual learners might do better with mind maps. Another kind of learning is kinesthetic learning. Markus Wust’s post about iphone applications ties into this- such an application would help both visual and kinesthetic learners. (Sorry for getting off topic, it’s late and my mind is wandering all over the place.)

  11. ghbrett Says:

    Jo, I agree that there are different applications, tools and methods to work with. Especially the fact that we need to find our own best fit. That is part of my initial intent in suggesting this topic was to provide a brief cross view of different tools with supporting URLs and then open floor for comments from group. I would like to find a way to digitally capture or have folks submit their opinions so that we can all share our different opinions and unique experiences.

    Karin, with the manual process you might like to have a look at Evernote since it will do optical character recognition on images you add to your notebooks. I’ve used it to OCR white boards, magazine articles, and business cards.

    I’m aware of the different learning styles. I’ll need to think about iPhone as kinesthetic. Would a tablet computer or graphics tablet with gestures fit in this category?

    BTW there are a growing number of mindmap apps coming our for iPhone. The small screen is a bit much for me, but the form is there. iBlueSky is one example.

  12. Arden Kirkland Says:

    Karin – I don’t think that’s so off topic – but it does also relate to several other posts, including my own! I’m really interested in trying to recreate kinesthetic learning experiences digitally. I don’t know if the iphone would be my first choice (especially since I can’t afford one myself), but I’d love to explore it.

  13. thowe Says:

    I am absolutely interested in participating in this conversation, primarily for teaching and enabling students to begin to learn more dynamically, feel they have more control over the ideas they’re working with. Two of the biggest–interrelated–problems I face are 1.) dealing with the learning curve for even relatively user-friendly tools, especially when asking students to do things like mind-mapping prior to lecture, and 2.) dealing with the need for java, flash, miscellaneous extensions, and so on–not everyone has everything that’s needed, so many tools use different ware, not every computer on campus or at home is configured in the same way, and on and on. What other information is needed in a checklist like this of visual thinking tools? Looking forward to this one!

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