(Version française ci-dessous)
Creating a mindmap doesn't necessarily require a complex piece of software and a lengthy training period. There exists a variety of online mindmapping tools, such as Mindmeister, Mindomo, Mind42 or Bubbl.us. Let's take a look at this last tool, Bubbl.us, and what it can be used for in the context of student work.
Here is a first example of a heuristic map created with Bubbl.us, which presents grammatical structures used to express hypotheses in English. As soon as the map loads, you can zoom in, zoom out or move the map around using your mouse.
On the Bubbl.us website, you create a free account, and can immediately begin weaving your mindmap. The controls are extremely simple, and you can add content balloons either by clicking on the tools inside each bubble, or by using the "enter" and "tab" keys. Admitedly, it is impossible to modify the size or the font of characters, and you can't add pictures, links or annotations either. You can change the colour of individual text balloons and modify their position on the map and the lines linking them, but you don't have access to the sometimes bewildering variety of options in dedicated mindmapping software like Inspiration, Mind Manager or Freemind.
Is this truly a drawback? That depends on what it is that you want to do with it. But by far the most interesting function within Bubbl.us is the possibility of working collaboratively with other users, in real time, on the same mindmap. All you need to do is search for and select other users, for example a group of students in your school's computer room, and give them "full edit" access to your mindmap. From that point on, all those with "full edit" access can freely modify, add or delete in part or in full any element or branch on the mindmap. All that remains is to think up the sort of collaborative project you want to set in motion, and the group of participating students or teachers can work together to share their ideas, in real time or hours or days later, to develop together a branching representation of the theme or project they're working on.
Of course, the idea of using this sort of collective brainstorming process for international projects like eTwinning hasn't escaped me. I'll tell you more once I've had the chance to test this form of collaborative brainstorming within my eTwinning project "Saving our Planet", both working with the other teachers to organize details about next year's modifications to our project, and with students who will be able to use Bubbl.us to work together with their international partners to create heuristic maps of their project ideas together.