I like maps. This may seem odd, given that I have no sense of direction (either literally or metaphorically) and that I don’t like to travel. But it’s true, I can happily pore over maps of cities that I’ve never heard of and countries that I’ll never visit. Perhaps it’s the illusion of of order that maps provide: everything is in its place, fixed into position by the mighty power of the cartographer’s pen. This may also be why I like concept maps and concept map software. In the past, I’ve given workshops about my favorite concept map program, Cmaps, which is available for free from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. But more recently I’ve grown enamoured of Personal Brain, which has the potential to move concept mapping to a new dimension. Essentially, Personal Brain allows you to create dynamic concept maps, that is, ones that zero in on whatever concept you select, while pushing less related concepts into the background. It also allows you to create far more complex relationships among concepts or bits of information than you can with more “traditional” concept map software. The best way to get a sense of Personal Brain, though, is to see it in action, which you can do by taking a look at a couple of the “brains” that I recently created and then exported to the web. This one, for example, is a brain that maps all of the words in English that evolved from an ancient Indo-European source; and this one shows the committees that staff members of CTE are involved in. The noted futurist Raymond Kurzweil also uses the Personal Brain software on his website, as a way of allowing visitors to his site navigate through his ideas about artificial intelligence. Other users of Personal Brain have created “brains” containing hundreds of thousands of “thoughts,” all of which are searchable, and whose relationships to other “thoughts” can be extended or modified with a few mouse clicks. I’d encourage you to download and try out Personal Brain — and let me know what kinds of applications or project you think it would be well suited for.
As Senior Instructional Developer, Mark Morton helps instructors implement new educational technologies such as clickers, wikis, concept mapping tools, question facilitation tools, screencasting, and more. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Mark taught for twelve years in the English Department at the University of Winnipeg. He received his PhD in 1992 from the University of Toronto, and is the author of four books: Cupboard Love; The End; The Lover's Tongue; and Cooking with Shakespeare. View all posts by Mark Morton