Thanks to Thane over at Technology on a Shoestring, TeacherJay learned about this neat little tool. Having been a big fan of graphic organizers and mind maps for years, TeacherJay had long been interested in finding an application that was easy to use, multi-platform and free. Today’s post takes a quick review of this new site and suggests some potential uses for it in education.
Exploratree is a web-based application that allows the user to create mindmaps of concepts, or simply to organize one’s thoughts in a visual manner. The site is completely free and has a variety of pre-designed formats to choose from, or you can build your own from scratch – it’s really pretty easy. There is a method for uploading images from your own computer as well as the basic shapes that are provided. Perhaps the best feature, and what sets it apart from others, is the ability to create stages in the mindmap. For example, a teacher could create a process flow that shows the brainstorming phase of writing an essay, and then after a mouse-click, the stage of outlining will appear. Sure, this could be done in Powerpoint, and if online collaboration is needed, then even GoogleDocs or Zoho could take its place, so why use this tool? It’s actually built for this purpose and has templates already designed. Many learners will have difficulty when given a blank slate with which to fill-in their ideas, but when shown an organizer to use as a foundation, students are able to become much more strategic with their learning and many find the visual aspect of it as an aid to their learning. For more information on what graphic organizers are, and why to use them, please take a look at this article.
TeacherJay has experimented with Inspiration, their more child-oriented spin-off, Kidspiration and also MindJet’s MindManager. Unfortunately, they are not free – around US$70 for Inspiration and up to US$349 per MindManager license. Some free/open-source alternatives that TeacherJay has tried have been FreeMind and Semantik/KDissert (both on Linux). While they are appealing, and certainly have their uses, they simply haven’t caught on outside of Linux circles, although it will run on other platforms. All of these programs are lacking in features, user-interface, and definitely in their availability. Most people just aren’t using them and even if schools were to purchase them, not many teachers will know how to use them.
Exploratree comes to us from Futurelab and Microsoft UK Education. Although it is still a Beta it functions quite nicely and has a nice, albeit limited, range of features. The site is not without its downfalls however, for one, the registration component in order to obtain a free account and save work has occasionally been down recently, and the process creation component was a little confusing at first. Still, it is early in the development of this tool that should prove valuable for a long time to come.