Mind maps for taking notes
Nicky Cockcroft has blogged about the habit of student note-taking (Is the way we use PowerPoint serving our students?) and how it especially applies in journalism.
Some of the literature on higher education teaching tends to favour ditching lectures altogether, because it favours a "transmission" model that undermines the process of learning.
But lectures still have their place in the university, and big classes mean that it is perceived as the most efficient if not the most effective way of teaching.
So how do students deal with lectures, and as importantly, how should lecturers shape their lectures in a meaningful way?
Nicky reckons that making Powerpoint slides available to students after the lecture is to "sign the lecture 'death warrant'."
She believes "… there is no bigger energy-sucker than saying, 'Don't worry, I'll send you the notes later'. Students frankly gear down, and slowly switch off. This also has the potential to affect lecture attendance as students become complacent, knowing that they will have their notes sent to them without having to be present."
My own experience, from presenting in the corporate world, is that Powerpoint works best when the resulting slides are of no use as a substitute for notes.
I believe Powerpoint slides should be illustrative, sometimes literally in the form of pictures, sometimes in the form of graphics. They should never be notes for the presenter, either dumped onto slides in the form of long sentences.
I've been subjected to countless mind-numbing presentations of this sort.
We could all learn something from the lectures on using and misusing Powerpoint presentations from our own Simon Pamphilon.
We have become used to slide-shows that aren't really slide-shows, but I wonder whether not using Powerpoint at all is better than using it badly.
Whether Powerpoint is used or not, however, students should be encouraged to take notes.
At my very own first lecture as an undergrad, back in the pre-Powerpoint era I decided I would ditch the rote learning habits of Christian national education and focus on the essence of what was being said rather than the form.
So I wrote down what I understood, not what the lecturer was saying. I also reviewed the notes every afternoon. It worked well for me, and my first year of university was satisfying and rewarding.
I had to ditch this approach when I became a journalist, because I soon realised that I needed to have accurate quotes from those interviewed to illustrate the articles I was writing.
What advice should one give journalism students about taking notes in lectures and tutorials?
The first point is that there is a fundamental difference about taking notes as a reporter and as a student.
Students should not be expected to regurgitate what the lecturer has said. Reporters have to quote their sources accurately.
So reporters have to focus on both the meaning of what is being said, and the exact words spoken - a difficult task.
It is more important for students in a lecture to understand as the basis for intellectual engagement.
Pen and paper are the most appropriate for lectures and tutorials, but a number of free mind mapping programs are available. Mind mapping is useful in other contexts too.
I've been trying out the mind-mapping approach to note-taking in my first year of the Post-Graduate Diploma in Higher Education, using Freemind, an open-source, multi-platform piece of software.
I find mind mapping does enable me to track my understanding of the presentation of complex issues in tutorials, but works best as a tool for understanding and remembering if the notes are reviewed soon afterwards.
Aside from its uses in note-taking, mind mapping can be used for planning both actions and writing. Because of their free-form structure, mind maps can unblock mental processes to allow solutions to appear, particularly to problems of structuring a paper or an article.
If you prefer hierarchical planning structures, Treepad Lite the free and basic version of Treepad is available as a free download. Personally I find it inferior to Freemind as a planning tool, but in certain instances it might be useful, e.g planning a website.