How Has a Shift to Mobile Platforms Impacted on Your Use of MindMapping Applications?

Over the last couple of months I have been pondering and reflecting on the use of my mind mapping tools and how to best integrate them into my mobile lifestyle. More and more, I find that I am accessing my iPhone and iPad and need to have access to my mind maps for projects, to-do lists and brainstorming sessions. While I still rely on my desktop applications for doing the critical creation of my mind maps, I want to be able to access the information on my mobile devices wherever I am. Several years ago, I moved a lot of my mind maps to the web using Comapping, which I have used to teach my graduate courses. Comapping produces great embedding code and works wonderfully within Moodle. My students get the benefits of a prepared visual agenda-complete with links and file attachments which are easy to navigate. The only flaw in using Comapping at this time, is that it is Flash based and can't be accessed using an iOS device.

Looking at the options, I now needed to evaluate mind mapping tools that would give me the flexibility of being able to create them on my computer but have the capability to view them on my iPhone and iPad. Being a long time Mindjet MindManger user, I can use the desktop version for the mind mapping creation and upload it to my free Connect account which can be accessed from any iOS device with the Mindjet app. This is a new workflow for me but so far so good. My MindManager maps are stored on line and can be quickly accessed via my iPhone. Likewise, I can also choose to save my mind maps from my computer to my Dropbox account which is tightly integrated with the Mindjet app on my iPhone and iPad. One of the nice advantages of use the Mindjet Connect account with my iOS apps is that the maps are always synchronized and I don't have to be concerned if I am working on the latest version. In a pinch I can also access my Mindjet Connect account from any computer connected to the web and create mind maps which I can than access from my iPad or iPhone-which is really great!

I have also revisited MindMeister which I had used for a time several years ago and am very pleased with the features and the fact that it is web based and I can access my maps from my iOS devices. Unlike, MindManager, MindMesiter is all web based which gives me added flexibility of being able to create and access my mind maps with a browser and a connection to the web. With MindMeister, I can attach files and links which makes it a wonderful digital repository for my work. MindMeister creates a graphically rich mind map which can be embellished with icons and images to jazz it up. One of the really nice features of MindMeister is the ability to create embedding code which makes it easy to share out my maps-and works well in Moodle. Using the MindMeister app I can access my maps from any iOS device which has proven to be really helpful on several occasions.

Based on my workflow-I still tend to do more creation of my mind maps using a laptop computer which is just fine- but having access to the information and my files on the road from my iPhone or iPad is really indispensable. As developers of mind mapping application begin to think through their strategies for future product development  they need to enter into the formula ways for users to access their information from mobile devices. I trust that some of the leaders in the mind mapping space will announce apps shortly that will give end users more choices so that they don't have to leave their maps trapped on the island of their desktop or laptop.  As always, I'm interested in learning how the mobile platforms have impacted on your mind mapping workflow.

PS: I have just begun to utilize MindGenius and the MindGenius app on my iPad and will share my experiences in the next week or so.

NowBoard- New Interactive Whiteboard Tool from Learning Resources

Always on the look out for new tools for the classroom, I came across a new interactive tool called Now!Board, from Learning Resources. For years Learning Resources has been developing innovative and interactive tools for the classroom but this is their first foray into the interactive whiteboard space which has been defined by companies like Smarttech, Promethean, and Mimio. Each of the aforementioned companies, has garnered a fair share of the interactive whiteboard space by providing both high quality products and content that teachers could use right out of the box. Learning Resources appears to be going after the budget conscious school district that is looking to increase and jazz up classroom lessons without making a large capital investment. Now!Board is priced at $499 dollars and will work with both Windows and Mac's making it a great solution for school districts that are running both operating systems. Now!Board will work on any flat surface and is ideal for use with a traditional whiteboard or even on a screen.

It is hard to believe when you open the Now!Board box just how small the Now!Board device is, making it a truly portable solution that can be easily shared among classrooms. In the box, you receive the Now!Board software, the Now!Board camera, a USB cable, a Now!Board! Stylus and Wand, and a Quick Start User Guide. To get started I simply installed the software off of the CD and ran the Now!Board software and plugged in the Now!Board Camera. With my laptop connected to a data projector I was ready to experience using the Now!Board. In order to use the Now!Board it is recommended that it be placed about 12 inches behind the data projector. The next step required that I calibrate the Now!Board with the computer which was accomplished by clicking on 9 points on the wall that I was projecting onto. By following the prompts provided by the software,  I was able to calibrate the Now!Board quickly and I was ready to try it out. 

Since I was using Now!Board on a wall, I used the wand that was provided to interact with the Now!Board. Students must hold down the button on the wand to interact with the software which may be a challenge for some young students. For those teachers who are used to using interactive whiteboard software you should feel right at home with the software. It is important when using the Now!Board that the wand has line of sight with the Now!Board camera so that you do not block the signal. Once you get the hang of that you will find the software very responsive. It is easy to toggle between the whiteboard functionality and using the Now!Board to control your computer applications as well as annotating on top of them. It is easy to save what you have written using the Whiteboard tool and reopen it at a later date. Unfortunately you can not insert pictures, graphics or videos into the whiteboard tool which may be perceived as a short coming of the Now!Board software.

I decided to try the Now!Board while using the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives to see how well it would work on an interactive web site. I choose to use one of the base ten activities and found it rather easy to move the base ten blocks around the screen with the wand. I was also able to annotate the screen with the pen tool and change the color and width rather easily. I next tried a sequencing activity on the web site which worked rather well. The Now!Board palette which is available contains a number of useful tools when using the product. It has many of the tools we have come to expect when using an interactive whiteboard which can be accessed easily from the palette. Unlike other interactive whiteboards all of the objects are drawn with the pen tool and can be moved on the screen with the Scale Object tool. It would be nice if there was a way to draw basic shapes such as squares, circles, and triangles with this system. You will also find a Highlighting tool which can be used with the whiteboard or for annotating text on other applications or on the web. If you need to it is really a snap to take a screen shot of what you are working on which gets stored as a picture file on your computer.If the program requires text input you can bring up the On-screen keyboard from the Now!Board palette and use the stylus or the wand to type. 

Using the Whiteboard feature from the tools palette lets you use the stylus as if you were working on a whiteboard. This is where you can write down ideas and draw pictures that you want to use in your lessons. When you have filled up one screen it is easy to click on the plus button to add another blank screen to write upon. Teachers can navigate quickly form screen to screen when using the Whiteboard feature and will be glad to know that it is easy to jump around from screen to screen. It would be nice if there was some way to have a Thumbnail view so that a teacher could jump to a specific screen in the Whiteboard. For teachers who are looking for a cost effective way to add interactivity to their lesson and already have a whiteboard and a projector the Now!Board could be just what you are looking for. There are some factors to consider when purchasing the Now!Board which include that fact that if the Now!Board camera or projector gets bumped you will need to re-calibrate. Likewise, your computer will need to be in close proximity to the Now!board since you will need to connect it via a USB cable. The Now!Board can be used with ceiling mounted projectors which is always a better solution since there is one less piece of equipment that can be accidentally bumped. 

Overall I had a good experience using the Now!Board and it worked as advertised. For teachers and schools with a limited budget the Now!Board can bring a new level of interactivity into teacher lessons and make for a great learning center. With a price tag of $499 dollars the Now!Board is in reach of many teachers who may decide to pay out of pocket for it or apply for any number of schools and PTA grants. I for one am looking forward to showing more teachers this tool that they can quickly use in their classrooms' to spice up learning. Learning Resources has a grant opportunity that runs through May 22nd where they are giving away 3 Now!Boards to the top three applicants. Click here to find out more information about the grant and good luck!