Technology Enhanced Learning at Sussex

Mind mapping as a study skill and teaching aid

Critically engaging students in discussions and ideation with mind mapping and interactive whiteboards.

Dr Karis Jade Petty is a Lecturer in Anthropology and International Development. We spoke to Karis to find out how she has been using Interactive Whiteboards during workshops on a second year, undergraduate ethnographic research methods module.

What was the learning or teaching issue that prompted this innovation?

Karis wanted to find a way to help her students develop the necessary skills to critically engage with the subject and to identify how concepts taught on the module relate to each other.

A large group discussion in a workshop setting can be quite hard to follow, especially for students with shorter term auditory processing. If you’re not careful, people can jump-from one new idea to another and never quite manage to engage in the deeper levels of critical thinking.

Karis employs a student-led approach during her workshops and uses the interactive whiteboards to produce mind maps of the ideas which emerge through class discussions. This serves to highlight key ideas, visualise conceptual relationships and to articulate ideas from discussions into academic language.

I would set a question to the class, students would then work in groups to formulate an answer. We would then have a class discussion based on responses and I would map their ideas on the board

The notes would act as a visual aid which Karis can use to focus and direct further discussion. Once the initial ideas have been pinned down, the class revisit and unpack them in more detail to help deepen their understanding of the key concepts and explore how they fit into the wider context of the subject. This also demonstrates and encourages active note-making, illustrating how ideas can be organised and developed. Due to the electronic format, these maps can be uploaded to Canvas and referred to in later parts of the module.

What impact did this have on the student experience?

There has been very positive feedback from students, who have found this an engaging method to focus discussion and invite participation. Students have come to office hours with their own mind maps, using these as a study skill to plan their essays for this and other modules.  Whilst this is useful for students personal use and development, it can provide a powerful tool for quickly sharing and explaining ideas during meetings.

I encourage students to create their own mind maps, as I can’t comment on their written prose for summative assessment, but I can comment on their ideas which they have produced on their mind maps. This way, I can support students in the development and organisation of their ideas whilst encouraging them to articulate clear arguments and use appropriate evidences and sources

In the workshop, it reinforces working together and collaboration. Opening short small group discussions prior to large ones provides an opportunity for the ideas of less confident students who may not vocalise them in front of the entire class to be shared.

On occasions I have used mindmaps from groups in one workshop and bought them into another workshop with a different group, so there’s not only peer learning within a space, but between different groups as well. Students have appreciated this as it’s felt like they are part of bigger conversation.

Karis has exploited the ability to save a digital copy of notes on the interactive whiteboard to great effect, as well as providing a set of revision notes, they can be used to extend the discussion beyond the classroom to provide a much more inclusive student experience.

How will the outcomes influence your future practice?

Following an introductory interactive whiteboard training session provided by TEL; Karis has developed these teaching techniques by observing how students respond in the classroom. This has helped her to maintain a flexible and inclusive approach which adapts to the student needs. We asked Karis whether she had any ideas for how she could extend her use of the techniques we had discussed to enhanced her teaching practice.

Students are assessed by group presentation for one of my modules and it’s difficult to think of formative assessments to develop their ways of thinking, other than more group presentations.

In the future, Karis plans to ask students to produce a mind map in preparation of their assessed presentations, which she can give feedback on.

Further information


Photo of Dr Karis Jade Petty


Department: Anthropology and International Development

Date: 2017 - 18

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