I’m not sure how other educators decide when to incorporate active learning, but for me the process goes something like this:

Not total chaos...

Not total chaos…

In sum, I generally develop/ incorporate active learning activities to deal with the boring-lecture-problem, rather than start off with active learning activities that I’m dying to incorporate.  This might explain why I use the most random mix of active learning activities, many of which don’t have names (that I know of).

This thought process led to the collaborative, real-time mind-mapping exercise my students created. After discussing global warming and recent anthropogenic changes, I wanted to talk about the future of our warming planet in a way that emphasized what can be done.  Immediately I wanted to incorporate an introduction to both mitigation and adaptation, but I quickly realized (1) listing strategies would be boring; (2) both topics are vast; (3) both topics are constantly changing; and (4) that I don’t feel totally comfortable choosing the strategies that are “important enough” to discuss – I wanted that to be student led.  By researching the problem together, they would be able to find more information on a rapidly evolving subject than I could provide. And thus, I set sixteen students to the task of making a Climate Change Action Mind Map, a task which they completed in its entirety in an hour!

Mitigation portion of the mind-map. Click to enlarge. Full pdf (link below) has clickable links

Mitigation portion of the mind-map. Click to enlarge. Full pdf (link below) has clickable links

GEO3350a Climate Change Action Mind Map

How did they do it?


The only instructions I gave to students ahead of time were to bring a laptop to class if they were able. In the meantime, I set up a LucidChart educator account and made a skeleton of the mind-map, with the hyperlinked titles “Mitigation”, “Adaptation”, and “Personal Action” in the middle of each page. During class, we talked about the difference between mitigation and adaptation, and I gave a 5-minute demo on using LucidChart, including linking to online materials.  Learning these tricks took no time thanks to LucidChart’s online tutorials.

Mind Map home with links to three brainstorm pages

Mind Map home with links to three brainstorm pages

From there, the mind-map took a life of its own.  The students added, edited, and modified the diagram, watched the changes their classmates made, and yelled dibs on the topics they wanted to work on.  It was a lively mind-mapping session, after which we debriefed as the students each shared the most interesting topic they researched.



Here’s why:

  1. The range of material that came out of the combined efforts of 21 students is more varied and extensive than I would have come up with on my own.
  2. The amount of material covered is greater than would be in smaller groups, which would surely have repetition of topics. Students can see in real time what subjects their classmates are covering and choose something else.
  3. Such a lesson is catered to the interests of individual students.  Each student was able to focus on topics that interested them, while still reaching the common learning objective (i.e. explaining examples of mitigation and adaptation techniques).
  4. The class was full of activity, collaboration, discussion, good work, and laughter (partially but not entirely due to the discovery of the chat function in LucidChart).
  5. Mind-mapping is dynamic and creative, so that students were still engaged after an hour. The learning-curve for LucidChart is short and its tools are intuitive, allowing the students to be engaged in researching and connecting ideas from the get-go.
  6. This activity is suited particularly well to subjects where the material is constantly changing. For example, when teaching about curtailing and adjusting to global warming, each year there are numerous new and improved technologies, innovations in adaptation, and new science indicating the regional changes that are likely to occur. Instead of updating this entire lecture every year, mind-mapping allows students to research the most up-to-date information themselves.


We encountered a couple of hurdles, but they were hiccups not road blocks.

  1. I initially sent e-invites to each of my students to connect to my LucidChart account, which seemed too much trouble since I wanted to get everyone logged on quickly at the beginning of class. I never did figure that out, but found that using the “create user” button seamlessly allowed me to create profiles and passwords for each of my students.  The website also has import options if you have many users.
  2. The website went on the fritz dealing with 16 users all editing at once.  This caused some mild frustration amongst students, including some dramatic (and entertaining) explanations of woe.  Perhaps had we not been in-class, all working on the same mind-map at once, we would not have experienced that problem, however that was part of the appeal of using the mind-mapping tool this way.

That being said, I give customer service credits to LucidChart who responded to all my questions on the same day.  They even checked over my Mind Map and made suggestions because I was getting a bit paranoid about things going smoothly during class. How’s that for service?

Overall, the mind-map-sesh was a succesh! I wonder if you have used a similar mind-mapping tool in your teaching (or say, chart paper?).  I know there are lots of mind-mapping tools out there, have you found any that work seamlessly with multiple users working at once in the same document? In what ways have you/ will you incorporate online mind-mapping in your discipline?