We’ve all created standard outlines before – outlines for essays, outlines for presentations, outlines for study guides – and we’ll keep making them and teaching others to make them because they’re genuinely helpful for understanding content and order at-a-glance. But what other options do students have when trying to organize complicated or dense information? Plotting historical content on maps and/or timelines is one way to keep students interested and excited about dates, people, facts, and how they all relate to one another. No matter how succinct and neatly organized, outlines can be boring, especially when it comes to complicated historical information! Variation in study tactics helps keep students interested, which is half the battle.
But students need to be taught how to create effective timelines, charts, mind maps, and diagrams, just like students need to learn how to make outlines and study efficiently in general. Tutors, teachers, and educators can help students learn best practices in creating visual study guides and students can practice on their own working from templates or examples. To this end, I have been experimenting with the trial version of Inspiration 9 recently, asking the students I tutor to organize certain information in Inspiration’s pre-made templates. One student created a “mind map” summarizing and explaining the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution; another student created a diagram of fascist and communist leaders (pictured), using images of flags, maps, and the leaders themselves to convey information about the leaders visually. Both students mentioned the process of creating the visual study guides was enjoyable (although time consuming) and helped them remember information with more clarity than their written study guides.
As with any digital software, however, there is a learning curve to Inspiration 9 (and a price tag: $59, but it’s currently on sale for $29.50). Mind maps, charts, and timelines can be drawn on paper easily, so what’s the benefit of learning how to use this software in particular? There are a few:
- Pre-made templates for specific subjects show students good ways to organize information in inspiration’s diagrams, mind maps, and outlines. Examples include: a mind map for historical events, a diagram for a persuasive speech, and a lab report outline.
- Export capabilities allow students to turn their mind maps or diagrams into standard outlines and slide presentations. Not only is this useful for students that need to present on their ideas, but it’s helpful for them to see how information organized visually still has a logic that can be translated into outline format.
- Quick reference card and videos can help educators better understand the ins and outs of the Inspiration, although working on specific projects from pre-made templates would be less tedious for students learning the software.
- iPad application “Inspiration maps”gives students and educators the ability to work on-the-go and share with one another. The application is also significantly cheaper than the software for Windows or OSX, at $9.99, but of course that only helps if the students or tutor already has an iPad.
- Trial versions give educators and students the ability to practice using the software before making a commitment – and they’re available for both the iPad app and the Windows and OSX software.
Software like Inspiration 9 gives visual learners variety and choice in creating study guides, but educators and tutors must learn the basics and help students with their first projects, or the learning curve will dissuade students from using it on their own. With an informative introduction and a fun first project, students will be prepared to create their own visual organizers. That said, I wonder if there is any other software (especially freeware) that tutors or educators have experimented with that they would suggest in lieu of Inspiration, or if anyone has experience or tips in working with Inspiration. If so, please share!
By Rebecca Mir, Private Tutor