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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Get Graphic with Gliffy: Sharing Mind Maps Online

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

It's no news to anyone here that visual learning plays a critical role in instruction at all levels. Each of us works hard to ensure that we're reaching each learner and that we're employing various modes of presentation and interaction in order to teach in the most efficient and effective way.

Those of us who have been in the classroom also know that incorporating visual teaching and learning strategies is a highly effective way to help display mind maps, engage students in effective brainstorming, communicate ideas in a variety of ways, aid students in recognizing patterns and connections between concepts, and so on.

As a former fourth-grade teacher, I can remember that one of the hardest concepts to teach was effective outlining -- taking ideas and organizing them in a flow that made sense. Being able to visually represent concepts, brainstorms, and related bits of information graphically reached students at a deeper level than simply using text-based descriptions.

I'd like to introduce you to a Web site called Gliffy. According to its creators, "the word gliffy is an adaptation of the word glyph, a symbol or character that imparts information nonverbally." They go on to say, "Gliffy is an online diagramming service that helps users communicate with a combination of shapes, text, and lines." I describe it as a combination flow-chart and brainstorming tool mixed with a social, collaborative wiki.

What's especially fun about this tool, aside from it having a free option, is that it's collaborative: I can develop a mind map with you, and we can invite collaborators to work with us in a password-protected environment. I can email individuals or post the shared URL to my blog. The tool offers dynamic publishing, which means that if you link a collaborative gliffy document to a blog, it remains live; any changes to the original are always reflected in the blog links, and so on.

Those interested can check out a tutorial on YouTube. Gliffy is a great tool for those who either can't afford a commercial graphic organizer or want to take graphic organizing to the next level and involve collaboration and group work in the process. As always, let us know what you think, and share links to similar Web sites.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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