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Mind Maps in Action: Using mind maps to support disabled students.

In this edition of our Mind Maps in Action series, we talk to Assistive Technology tutor, Martyn Stahl, about his use of mind mapping software to help disabled students at Portsmouth University achieve their full potential.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

About 16 years ago a TV program showing how voice recognition could help dyslexics changed my course of employment. Being dyslexic myself I could see the potential it had in helping people that had previously struggled to express themselves in school, work and life. Having no knowledge of computers and no teaching experience I embarked on several courses at college and Portsmouth University. While completing a teacher trainer course in IT at Portsmouth University I was asked to support their disabled students, training them in the use of what is now termed Assistive Technology. I have been employed by University of Portsmouth for 14 years working with disabled students showing them how they can use technology to support their studies. I still get a great kick out of seeing how technology can remove large barriers to students opening up a path to success.

How and when were you first introduced to mind mapping?

One of the first lessons I had to take was in the use of Inspiration mind mapping software, which presented quite a challenge, as I hadn’t heard of either! Enter the Buzan Mind Map book. I thought it was great. I could clearly see how it worked and the potential for everyone, not just my students. Adapting the Buzan methods to the then diagram based Inspiration required some out-of-the-box thinking but I got there. Attending a Buzan two-day course helped me to fill in some of the gaps I had and it was helpful to talk to people from varying backgrounds, learning how they use it.

What do you perceive to be the single greatest benefit of mapping?

Making things clear. Whether you are using it to plan a project, take notes or give a presentation it’s, ability to give clarity is unbeatable. Being able to use colour, pictures and structuring it in a way that make sense to you means the information is personal. It’s like you now own it!

What role does mapping play in your day-to-day work?

I use it to plan courses, curriculum, presentations and note taking at meetings. Whereas I used to do a lot of hand drawn mind maps I now use software most of the time. iThoughts on my iPad is excellent. Having such a comprehensive package on a portable device is great. Inspiration, Mind Jet, MindGenius and MindView are the main products that I teach which keeps me on my toes. I spend a good deal of my time showing students how to get the best out of mind maps to support them in planning and writing essays, note making, organising their day and giving presentations. Using the Buzan methods as a basis helps them focus on what the information they’re studying is really about. I also try to promote mind mapping amongst colleagues and have arranged workshops in the use of Inspiration and MindView which we have site licences for. Part of my job is to make sure the networked Assistive Technology is working and kept up-to-date, which includes mind mapping software.

How have your students reacted to the use of maps and what difference has it made to their work?

This is probably the best part of my work. Although students come from school and college having used mind maps they often have a very patchy idea of what it is and are doubtful it can help them. As I talk them through the software and demonstrate how they should be using it to make information clear it is often like turning the light on in a dark room. They go from “don’t see the point in being here” to “this is great”. Tying in study skills with mind mapping software allows them fulfil their potential, especial the dyslexic students. Most dyslexics have short-term memory and organisational problems but are very visual, they have to think out-of-the-box to get round this. It’s like mind maps are made for them.

To take one area as an example, note making from textbooks. If you have a short-term memory problem this becomes a nightmare. Why am I reading this? What am I looking for? What was the question? What’s important? I take them through some basic study skills and show them how mind maps can be used and by focusing on the main central topic they can record small scraps of information using just key words which can be added to and easily reorganised (one of the benefits of software based maps). It means they don’t have to remember large amounts of data. It is recorded in a way that makes sense to them with their key words and is easily restructured. The result is a sense of relief and a positive view of note making.

I have visited a lot of student accommodation, not always a pleasant experience….. but it’s great to see printed mind maps small and very large on walls, fridges and ceilings! They love them.

What do you think is the greatest barrier to wider adoption of mapping in education? And where within the education sector do you think mapping could have the biggest impact?

The understanding of and training in the many uses of mind mapping. Teachers are overloaded from primary through to senior school and like most good tools mind mapping would make their own and students’ life easier but how to find the time and where to go for advice? Web sites like Biggerplate can play a part. I’ve certainly picked up some good ideas but more specific training is required.
Primary school has to be the starting point. Learning is fun at that age so if mind maps become a part of their learning tools they will carry it through their education and into their working life. After all mind maps are fun whether you are 5 or 50!

Would you like to add anything else?

I would certainly like to ‘Big Up’ Biggerplate. Looking at example maps I have found solutions to some tricky problems and the webinars have been helpful. Lets have more of the same with an even greater variety.

A huge thank you to Martyn for sharing his experiences with us, and we wish him and his students the best of luck for the future!

If you're using mind maps in your day to day work or personal life, we want to hear from you! Feel free to get in touch via Twitter (click here) or by commenting below.

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Barney is Community Manager at Biggerplate and shares user stories, mind mapping tips, and other news and updates from our global member community!
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