Do I mind about mind maps?

I’ve always had an ambivalent relationships with mind maps*.  Despite the frequent suggestion from various quarters about how great they are, lots of freeware online and their obvious value in helping to visualise relationships within a subject, I have tended to find them rather problematic.

This has been for two main reasons.  On the one hand, it tends to impose a hierarchy of organisation, working out from a central node, which tends to make the incorporation of cross-cutting themes at best tricky and at worst a complete mess.  On the other, I find that my way of understanding a subject tends to be more linear: I need a starting point to build an argument and a position.  As result, mind maps haven’t figured very much in either my teaching or my research.

However, that’s been changing a bit during this semester’s teaching.  One of my classes is a Masters module on EU policies, which I teach to a small group of about half a dozen students.  This has allowed me to get us all around a table to talk with either other, rather than a more formal arrangement.  In the second half of the module, we’ve been looking at individual policy areas and this is where the mind maps have shown their value.

This is my effort for the EU’s Common Security & Defence Policy and is my copy, essentially representing my notes for the class.  As we talked about the policy area, I re-created much of this diagram with additional points, working on an A1 flip-chart sheet.  as you can see, the map allows me to piece together some ideas and gives some focus to sub-sections within the topic.

From the students’ point of view, this has helped in capturing a relatively complex field and (particularly) in getting to understand how they might tackle the second phase.  This is a student-led session where they propose changes to the policy area in order to improve its operation.  The mind map lets them get a better sense of what the problems are and how potential changes might impact.

I’m still not totally sold on mind maps, but I can see that sometimes they are a very helpful tool.

    • This is exactly the kind of sentence that gives academics a bad name with the rest of the population.