Morehouse College Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center(MIEC)is a unit of Morehouse College, a historically Black, private liberal arts institution for men located in Atlanta, Georgia. Its focus is to educate men who are intellectually, socially and morally equipped to meet the challenges, and opportunities of their professions and communities. Noted Alumni include 16th U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and Academy Award winning filmmaker and director Spike Lee.
The MIEC is a global model for higher education and industry collaboration that connects education with student leadership development, and community-focused resources and support. MIEC runs a program called the Accelerating Growth Activator’s Program (AGAP). This program consists of business owners participating in bi-weekly sessions focused on Leadership Development, Marketing, Sales, Finance, People Management, and Securing Capital.
It is a 24-week program designed to be the catalyst to support businesses in securing funding that ignites economic growth by exercising strategic agility, procuring new customers, expanding market share, and increasing jobs.
Business Owners receive 1:1 coaching by Subject Matter Experts and participate in Executive Round Table discussions.
We asked the Program leaders Danita Harris to share insights into how they used GroupMap to help them achieve their goals in this amazing entrepreneurial program and how they helped their students build entrepreneurial capacity and knowledge. This is what they had to share.
Choosing an online brainstorming tool for student engagement
“We needed a collaborative brainstorming tool that allows our business owners to capture information throughout each of the sessions. These sessions were aimed to help them develop their strategic plan, capabilities statement, sales pitch, and growth plans. We selected GroupMap as a collaborative online brainstorming and meeting tool to support the Accelerating Growth Activator’s Program (AGAP). This would allow our coaches and subject matter experts to guide and facilitate sessions with each business owner, offer an organized way to collect their ideas and inspirations and help them refine their business models”.
“GroupMap offered over 80 easy to use customisable templates and the ability to set up a workspace for each of our businesses. Each business leveraged their workspace to collaborate with other business owners in the program and/or share with their respective teams. We primarily used two templates to support our needs: PESTLE Analysis and Business Model Canvas to support the goals and outcomes of the program”.
Business Owners leveraged the Pestle Analysis to document Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors that impacted their business and industry. This interactive template was most beneficial in capturing the impact of COVID-19 on the businesses who found the online tool to be easy to use. They also used the reporting function to download and share the map. This environmental scan and understanding of the changing business landscape served as the foundation for developing their business model canvas and overall strategy.
Below is an example of a business owner’s Pestle Analysis.
By completing the PESTLE analysis, each of the business owners had a clearer understanding of the business environment and could assess how each of these factors could directly or indirectly affect their business which would inform the next stage of completing their business model canvas.
Business Model Canvas (aka Strategic Canvas)
The second template business owners leveraged was the Business Model Canvas. To meet our needs, we renamed the Business Model Canvas to the Strategic Canvas as it served as an agile approach for strategic planning. The Strategic Canvas consisted of nine boxes that captured the business’:
Vision Statement/Value Proposition
Assets & Partners
Marketing & Engagement Strategy
Cost to Launch
The Strategic Canvas is only a few pages compared to an overloaded Strategic Plan that usually ends up on a bookshelf and rarely executed. Having the ability to use the Strategic Canvas to leverage a more agile approach to strategic planning was most beneficial to the canvas.
Also, because of the online functionality, updates can easily be made to the Canvas, and it becomes a LIVING document. It is a succinct, precise way to capture information needed to create a Capabilities Statement, Sales Pitch, Growth Plans, and many other uses. It can easily be shared with potential investors, employees, potential partners, and shareholders versus the traditional business plan.
Feedback from business owners included
Online centralized collaborative platform
Ease of Use
Invaluable tool to narrow down to a core actionable idea(s).
It is recommended that the novice user set aside time to explore the many features GroupMap has to offer. Businesses can directly contact GroupMap to get answers, learn more about plans and even give suggestions for future templates.
GroupMap and MIEC: Bridging the Gap in Facilitating collaboration online
While the sleek and sophisticated designs can seem somewhat intimidating at first glance, we found GroupMap to be extremely user friendly. The templates were already created, and Business owners were able to successfully leverage GroupMap and effectively use the Pestle Analysis and Strategic Canvas.
GroupMap’s customizable and user-friendly templates are directly in line with MIEC’s need to have an online
Collaboration tool for business owners, and are great for remote or distributed teams.
With the aim of improving the way their community discusses complex issues in order to arrive at better decisions, the Colorado State University Centre for Public Deliberation is an impartial resource for the local northern Colorado community, that is able to assist local government, schools, and community organizations in problem-solving key issues.
Core to the CPD’s process is working with partners to invite those affected by the issue ‘into the room’ where students trained in small group facilitation guide participants through sometimes challenging conversations.
So, what happens when no one is leaving their own home let alone stepping foot into ‘the room’?
As a result of the pandemic, like many other organizations, the CPD needed to quickly pivot and take those conversations online without eroding their effectiveness.
Professor Martin Carcasson, the Director of the CPD and a Communication Studies academic, shared with us how he and his team used GroupMap to embrace the challenges they faced and realized the opportunities offered by online facilitation with GroupMap.
Since 2006 the CPD has served its community through its efforts to enhance local democracy. They work with their city and county governments, school districts, and community organizations to increase the capacity needed to address difficult shared problems, and elevate the overall quality of conversation and engagement regarding those issues.
It has done so by creating open spaces for citizens to come together equipped with information and skilled facilitators to explore important issues relating to community problem solving and public decision making.
The CPD trains Colorado State University undergraduate students as facilitators; their team of 30 can turn an audience of around 100 participants into small groups, thereby paving the way for vastly different conversations to take place and avoiding the problematic experience of participants speaking one at a time at a microphone and simply talking past each other.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, the majority of the CPD’s small group discussions happened in person.
“Covid obviously forced us to quickly adapt and move online,” said Professor Carcasson “though, as a silver lining, it fast forwarded everyone’s comfort with online meetings, so it actually opened up a lot of opportunities for us”.
“As we looked into various options of software to use to assist with our processes once we moved online, we learned about GroupMap, and it seemed the best fit to what we needed.”
“I came across GroupMap in two ways at about the same time. I was helping a local facilitator, Chris Hutchinson of the Trebuchet Group, with a project, and he used GroupMap. I also had a graduate student with the CPD do a project last semester exploring various online platforms for synchronous engagement which led to the NCDD Online Engagement Showcase. GroupMap was one of the platforms that participated in that event.”
Easier group discussions that deliver deeper engagement
In addition to making the online transition easier, GroupMap helped address other challenges associated with group engagement.
“The problem with small groups, however, is you are limited in the natural diversity (demographic and viewpoint) of the group, and participants are always curious what is going on with the rest of the participants.”
Prior to their use of GroupMap, the CPD used an audience response system during in person events whereby participants submitted responses to questions using a small handset. To connect the large group and small group processes, multiple choice questions were posed that the whole group could answer and then respond to in the small group. However, this approach was limited to the multiple choice format.
The CPD then switched to an online service that used participants’ smart phones, which meant participants could respond to open ended questions. Although this allowed the CPD to move beyond a multiple-choice structure, the response flow remained rigidly one-way.
Meaningful Online Conversations
“As we moved online, we saw GroupMap as a much more flexible and interactive version of this. It allows us to not only get input from the large group, but people can also comment on each other’s ideas, as well as voting and prioritizing those ideas”.
Professor Carcasson’s work aims to allow people to express their opinions, then interact with each other’s ideas and work to elevate those that are stronger. He notes that while GroupMap facilitates both of these endeavors, he perceives the second is crucial.
With this in mind, Professor Carcasson aligns his group and map management to bring the greatest value to his discussions.
“We have successfully used GroupMap with Zoom breakouts to have small group discussions with multiple groups on the same map.”
“We like small discussion groups of around six to eight, but GroupMap groups of around 40, so maybe five to six small groups per map. We have student facilitators in each group helping explain things and spark discussion, while a separate facilitator watches the map. We have run some processes with 120 people, so we had numerous small groups but four separate maps. It enabled us to collect wonderful ideas and get have people prioritize and engage.”
“One map template I’ve created and used a lot is a Polarity Map, based on the work by Barry Johnson. GroupMap has been very helpful for me to help people create polarity maps and for me to have a place to brainstorm and refine my maps.”
“GroupMap helped participants see more ideas from the entire room – not just those generated in their small group – while also likely working better for introverts that prefer to write than speak. I think that is a critical aspect of GroupMap, since most of our processes are inherently biased toward extroverts that like to think out loud and can dominate processes. GroupMap provides some nice balance to that situation.”
Overall, GroupMap has had a positive impact on the work of Professor Carcasson and his team.
Enriching learning with asynchronous collaborations
Professor Carcasson has continued to innovate with GroupMap.
“In terms of my teaching, GroupMap has been very useful to integrate synchronous and asynchronous work. I like to have my students engage the readings between classes and start the conversation online, so then our in-class discussions can be much richer. Doing that well has always been a challenge, and GroupMap has provided new strategies that have worked very well so far.”
“One other thing we’ve done that I really liked that GroupMap facilitated was engaging alumni of our program (or, alternatively, allowing people not at the initial meeting to react to and contribute to an exercise). We have a facilitation training exercise in which students react to a variety of problematic statements and design a response to reframe them. We used GroupMap to collect the initial ideas and have people respond or talk through them. I was also able to send the link to our alumni through social media, which allowed them all to engage.”
The CPD has found the response to GroupMap has been very positive.
“The fact that people can publicly see the information and can be sent a view link afterwards to engage it is also important to transparency.”
“Students have enjoyed GroupMap because it is a significant improvement upon writing a paragraph response on the reading at the course website. I use a single map to ask questions like –
What is something that you want to talk about more?
What is something you disagree with or want to push back on or didn’t make sense?
What is something that gave you an Aha moment during the reading?
What questions do you have?
Students populate the four questions between classes, and the night before, I ask them to all rank which responses they most want to discuss in class. I use that ranking to finalize the class discussion and process.”
How GroupMap is being used in Classrooms to facilitate student learning.
The following are examples of how educators are effectively engaging their students in group discussion, collaborative learning, and speeding up the feedback process for their students. These ideas were presented at the WAND teaching and learning conference held at Curtin University and offer some wonderful examples of how teachers can employ innovative practices in delivering their curriculum.
Facilitating online discussions with pre-service teachers
Paul from the School of Education presented on how he used Edward De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” format to brainstorm inclusive practices for students.
The learning outcome was for students to explore the idea of having a student from a different country joining a classroom. Rather than one specific country, however, he asked participants to imagine that in the future, Aliens had been discovered from Mars and that a Martian was joining the classroom. Using the different perspectives of Edward De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”, pre-service teachers could then explore and list a wide range of issues that needed to be considered within the school environment. Given that this was also an online class, it meant that everyone had the opportunity to participate in the process and perspectives from a wide range of participants could be inputted.
Based on the outputs it looks like they had a great session, generating ideas and solutions to cross-cultural bridges. It’s no wonder that Paul received positive feedback from students like “This is the first time in my online course that I actually feel like a student that could contribute. All my courses should be like this.”
What could you try?
Using the 6 thinking hats approach so that people are encouraged to think differently about the same situation.
Integrating GroupMap into your own LMS (Blackboard was used in this case) to make the experience more seamless.
Augmenting your online course with a collaborative online brainstorming tool,
Smarter Team Planning
Bhadra, (Manager-Curtin Library Learning Services) went through the way she and her team had used GroupMap for unit planning. Instead of gathering up all the sticky notes or madly writing down notes during meetings, each person added their ideas and comments to a GroupMap over the course of a month. Many hands make light work, and by the end of the process, the team had plenty of useful information in one, easily accessible place. The best thing about it? Everyone was able to have their say and see what others were talking about (without the hassle of scheduling around a dozen people’s busy lives). Less early morning meetings equal more sleep for everyone.
What could you try?
Running your online brainstorming sessions prior to your meeting to allow people more think time.
Speeding up your meetings by having people add their thoughts to a key topic beforehand.
Capturing thinking as you plan so you have a written record and evidence of the planning process.
Deeper Discussion through a compare and contrast exercise
Naggamal, a Clinical and Professional fellow, entertained us with her use of GroupMap in the more traditional classroom environment. Naggamal used GroupMap to look at the pros and cons of different medical radiation equipment with her students. Students were asked to expand their thinking by branching out from a given set of medical radiation tools. By comparing and contrasting, students can better consolidate their understanding whilst applying critical thinking to the diagnostic methods. With something as technical as this, she said it was great to see students able to explore topics with no one fixed answer. She also has the ability to comment and give feedback to the conversation as it developed.
What can you try?
Provide feedback in real-time to groups as they present ideas.
Use GroupMap as a formative assessment tool to evaluate student understanding of key topics.
Facilitate a class discussion based on the overall output by the students.
Can we help?
Want some ideas specific to your classroom? We’d love to help. Just drop us an email with what you have in mind and we will be more than happy to help create a wonderful teaching and a learning experience
When it comes to fostering a conducive learning environment, it is important to provide plenty of opportunities for the learners to connect with each other.
Not only do these connections allow ideas to be better shared, explored, and evolved. They also help the learner grow a network and establish relationships that enhance the learning journey itself.
In order to connect with each other, learners need to communicate with each other.
The importance of supporting these communication opportunities is most apparent in an online context.
While there are a number of advantages to online delivery that have made learning far more accessible; the artificial nature of the environment strips away the majority of familiar communication opportunities and cues that are inherent in in-person lectures, workshops, and tutorials.
Training to ensure participants have the skills to communicate in an online environment with a view to achieving learning outcomes.
This is where you come in.
As an instructor, lecturer or facilitator, you are in a position to guide and support meaningful online discussions that inspire the pursuit of knowledge and nurture learning connections.
There are a number of things you can do to facilitate those online discussions.
Build a Framework of Small Online Group Discussion
Regardless of the context, we all know it’s easier to both hide or be overlooked in a bigger group.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that small online discussion groups offer students –
A greater space to contribute with an increased likelihood to feel heard
The chance to engage in deeper, focussed conversations, and
The opportunity to help navigate those conversations.
Smaller groups also provide facilitators with the chance to work with sets of a manageable size.
Although the ideal size of a group will depend on its purpose, as a general rule, it’s best to ensure online discussion groups don’t exceed ten participants.
Offer Asynchronous and Synchronous Discussion Times
Embrace the flexibility the online environment can offer. Holding conversations in a virtual environment means there’s no longer a need to search for seminar rooms on a central register.
Include groups that meet both synchronously and asynchronously within the small group framework, along with a variety of time slots.
This way students can self enroll into a group that suits both their availability and learning style.
While arranging discussions that are to occur synchronously is relatively straightforward (they require only a start time, an end time, and a medium for interaction), asynchronous discussions require slightly more consideration. Given it’s possible for one group member to post at the start of the week and others to post at the end of the week, asynchronous discussions benefit from a timeframe such as –
Friday to Monday
Monday to Wednesday
Wednesday to Friday
Educate Students as to How to Communicate and Collaborate Online
While incredibly powerful virtual communication media exists, possibly the most impactful error a teacher or facilitator can make is to assume participants are both familiar and comfortable with online discussion tools.
Yes, many students are highly adept at communicating via social media, however not all students know how to leverage those platforms to support learning outcomes. In fact, the use of ‘social’ platforms may distract them from their learning. This could hamper their studies and their ability to learn by impacting the effectiveness of their online classes.
There is an incredible range of tools available that can support online discussions –
Video conferencing platforms
Regardless of the mechanism you use, ensure students are familiar with the mechanics of the tool.
Of equal importance is to be transparent as to the type of data those tools can capture. If those tools are able to capture data to inform reports – share the nature of those reports with your students, especially if the tool is helping to inform the assessment.
Provide Clear Discussion Guidelines, Expectations, and Instructions
Just as you would with an in-person small group discussion, the online equivalent requires a purpose, focus, prompt or even an agenda.
All small group discussions benefit from a facilitator to curate the discussion flow. It’s also a great idea to include an observer who offers feedback not on the topic, but rather the mechanics of the discussion and group dynamics.
A discussion could take many forms, from a short presentation followed by questions, through to a debate, or a creative exploration of a topic.
It’s important to ensure there exists a shared understanding as to what constitutes an online conversation, especially as it will differ depending on the tools being used to support that conversation.
For example –
If using a discussion board, a certain number of different types of posts may be expected.
If using a video conference platform, perhaps questions and feedback of a particular standard is required.
If using an online collaborative tool, it’s possible a percentage of input is necessary.
As always, giving students the opportunity to inform both the discussion focus and the discussion forum tends to result in greater engagement.
Explore and Manage the Parameters of the Tool
Regardless of the tool or tools you use in support of your online discussions, ensure you have set the parameters of each of its features to ensure they are supportive of the outcomes you wish to deliver.
Keep in mind that conversations by their very nature are interactive, so depending on your tool you could –
Consider the limit of ideas each participant can contribute.
As well as numerous non-verbal cues, there exist a variety of courteous behaviors we undertake when conversing with people face to face.
The majority of these familiar communication cues and courtesies, however, aren’t automatically translated into the online environment; this absence of humanity can allow all manner of bad communication habits to evolve. These bad habits can erode the effectiveness of online discussions.
Firstly, acknowledge the difference between the environments and call out those behaviors you wish avoided. Sharing videos such as this is a light-hearted way of going about this.
Secondly, encourage your students to humanize the online environment. Suggest things such as –
The use of names rather than student numbers.
During video conferencing ensure all videos are on and (this can be a contentious one) audio is unmuted.
Look to your students for further suggestions that will help them –
Remember they are interacting with people, not bots.
Still thinking about reasons why your team should start virtual brainstorming?
We have access to an incredible array of technological developments that can change the way we work; from online collaborative tools and virtual workspaces, through to web-based mechanisms for team decision making.
With so many tools at our fingertips, it’s becoming easier to embrace an online workflow that fosters collaboration and enhances productivity.
Group brainstorming is no exception. In fact, in this Harvard Business Review article and meta-analysis, creative performance of virtual versus in person brainstorming sessions showed a different of almost 50% of a standard deviation and that “70% of participants can be expected to perform worse in traditional than virtual brainstorming sessions.”
Leading companies, agile teams, and workshop facilitators often use group brainstorming to create –
Solutions to challenges,
Answers for questions, and
An inspiration that sparks new products and ventures.
While group brainstorming can be an incredibly valuable mechanism, traditional brainstorming isn’t always effective. Indeed, traditional (face to face) brainstorming comes with inherent challenges such as –
A clash of egos
Groupthink and production blocking
Not all voices heard
All of which may negatively impact the quality of the decision the brainstorm was to inform. The great news is, there are effective online brainstorming tools that can help overcome these challenges. So if you’re wondering if your team should start virtual brainstorming, the answer is a very loud yes!
Here are five reasons why!
Why Should My Team Start Virtual Brainstorming?
Reason 1 – It creates a level playing field
Production blocking describes a context that happens when not all participants have the opportunity to speak up or contribute during traditional brainstorming.
There can be many reasons for this. There may be someone with a particularly dominant personality in the group who enjoys the spotlight. Several people may try to speak at once. An idea may be challenged before it is recorded. The group may become involved in a conversation and the idea forgotten before it is recorded.
Additionally, the ideas themselves may influence the information that is shared. Participants may anchor onto the first few ideas and start to converge onto a few thoughts rather than being able to share different perspectives.
Instances such as these limit idea generation.
With virtual brainstorming, each person in the group can share their ideas in real time, free from distraction and bias.
GroupMap, for example, allows people to brainstorm in real time individually, with ideas then being combined on the same brainstorming template. Similar ideas can be seen and grouped.
The chance to brainstorm individually has allowed everyone to put their ideas forward and share those ideas then quickly inspire new ones.
Reason 2 – It supports a psychologically safe space
When people are apprehensive about a task, they are less likely to contribute effectively to that task.
In the case of traditional brainstorming, people may feel apprehensive because –
They may be uncomfortable speaking up in a group.
They may be unsure of the subject or lack confidence in the validity of ideas.
To put it simply – they don’t feel safe.
With such apprehension present, the effectiveness of the brainstorming session could be impacted –
Participants may limit their contributions to the brainstorming.
Participants may self-edit ideas.
These behaviors aren’t deliberate, they are defense mechanisms people unconsciously activate when they encounter a situation in which they feel uncomfortable. They may limit or edit their ideas to lessen the likelihood of being called upon to explain what they meant or reduce the chance of their idea being challenged.
Virtual brainstorming tools often include simple features to hinder the activation of that personal defense mechanism.
Online brainstorming tools allow participants to contribute with full or partial anonymity. In doing so they are more likely to feel more confident about sharing their thoughts and suggestions with the group without feeling judged.
Allowing participants to contribute anonymously often increases –
Participation and engagement rates.
The number of ideas generated.
That’s right when brainstorming anonymously, people feel safer, and therefore contribute more!
Reason 3 – Encourages a greater range of ideas
When you’re amongst a group of friends do you ever find yourself agreeing to something that you don’t really want to do? Perhaps heading to a restaurant you don’t particularly like or sitting through a movie you never wanted to see?
It’s most likely you find yourself in those situations because you want to keep the peace; those decisions aren’t a big deal so you just go with the flow and agree with the group.
You’ve just experienced groupthink – a phenomenon that sees a desire for harmony within a group of people strongly influencing the decisions of that group.
The same thing can happen when brainstorming with a group of people. Once one person sees an idea, they are less likely to share an opposing view. In fact, that idea may influence them to the extent that they suggest similar ideas.
Virtual brainstorming makes counteracting groupthink incredibly easy. It’s possible to manage the process of the brainstorm so that participants brainstorm separately before all ideas are shared (at the same time).
In addition to managing the process, virtual brainstorming tools offer a large variety of creative templates to spark thoughts, so participants aren’t just staring at a blank page. Changing up the templates is a great way to prompt participants and help them to consider different contexts. It’s also possible to adapt those templates (even mid-brainstorm!)
By compensating for groupthink and building a context to spark creativity, virtual brainstorming tends to encourage a far broader range of ideas than a traditional approach.
Reason 4 – Transparent decision making
When it comes to decision-making, transparency ensures those decisions are informed and equitable.
Transparency reduces opportunities for undue influence and bias; so decisions made via a transparent process are less likely to be challenged, and more likely to be accepted and trusted.
Unlike those reached via general discussion, decisions made using an appropriate virtual tool are more likely to be transparent simply because every step of the decision-making process can be captured, reviewed, and quantified.
An online brainstorming tool could allow all participants to prioritize ideas (color coding, positioning on a radar, ratings, rankings, etc) in order to surface those they perceive to be most important. Facilitators can then easily see if participants’ thoughts are aligned, or if different perspectives require exploration.
Features such as anonymous voting allow all participants the opportunity to opt for the ideas they wish, without others knowing how they voted. Again removing the likelihood of influence.
With all data captured, the passage of time (with our propensity for forgetfulness) doesn’t erode the legitimacy of the decision.
Reason 5 – Faster, unbiased reporting
Virtual brainstorming side-steps the need to double handle information.
Unlike traditional brainstorming, there’s no need to copy ideas from sticky notes, flip charts, and whiteboards. WIth participants directly entering their ideas into the tool, there’s simply no need to retype them.
Because it’s digital, ideas don’t have to be limited to the few words that can be recorded on a post-it. Participants can comment on each other’s ideas, they can even add emojis and GIFs! Any grouping or voting on ideas is also instantly recorded, and there’s no risk of a miscount!
That direct entry of ideas also ensures that the participant’s idea or comment is represented as they intended, and not misrecorded or interpreted by someone jotting down the idea on their behalf.
Not only can inputs from a virtual brainstorming session be captured quickly and accurately, but the reports can also be used to assess the elements of the brainstorm.
GroupMap supports reports that can be generated based on a myriad of criteria (the process, the participants, the ideas, comments, and more).
Virtual brainstorming means there’s no need for a ‘scribe’ to capture ideas generated by the brainstorming process. It also means that the facilitator doesn’t need to spend hours compiling information post brainstorm.
The Bottom Line: Take Your Brainstorming Sessions to Another Level with Virtual Brainstorming
Shifting from traditional brainstorming to a virtual space allows team members to feel comfortable in creating more, broad-ranging ideas, that are quickly and objectively captured.
If you haven’t guessed it already and you’re keen to use effective brainstorming tools and techniques to take your team’s brainstorming sessions to another level, you’ve come to the right place.
GroupMap is an online brainstorming and group decision-making tool that helps improve the output and productivity of teams during brainstorming activities.
4 Collaborative Activities Using GroupMap In The Classroom.
We all love a good classroom quiz competition. The thrill of competing against others in the classroom using tools such as Kahoot or Socrative adds a level of excitement and urgency. But when it comes time for students to come up with and share their own ideas, we need a different tool. After all, you can’t use a hammer to screw a nail.
Classroom brainstorming, for example, requires students to draw on what they know and to see other perspectives. It’s a great opportunity for them to flex their individuality through divergent, collaborative, and creative thinking. Likewise, developing literacy and comprehension skills, self-awareness and agency require reflective practice.
Using graphic organizers helps you scaffold learning, provides some structure for students to organize their thinking – whether it’s reading a text, planning their work or simply being creative.
PROS of using online graphic organizers
Being able to create and reuse lesson plan templates without photocopying – saving paper and time.
Student responses are tracked, moderated, saved, and reportable.
It helps show the relationship between ideas in an organized way.
Can quickly share ideas as groups provide feedback directly on student ideas.
It helps with comprehension, and understanding of meaning and relationships.
Traditionally with paper formats, students would only write enough to “fill the space”.
You need to find the right organizer for the task at hand.
In short, over formatting and regulating a graphic organizer can actually do the reverse of what is intended and limit student independent thinking. At the same time, you still need to have some basic structure to facilitate thinking and discussion.
It makes sense to explore and use a range of context-driven graphic organizers to fit the 21st Century classroom. An online graphic organizer with a tool like GroupMap lets you create a range of graphic organizers so that each student can add their ideas to the template individually or collectively.
We reached out to Ms Jenny Cotham (Masters Education), teacher and community liaison at Winthrop Primary School to share some of the practices she uses both in and out of her classroom. Jenny has used Kahoot and Socrative for creating quizzes along with a myriad of other Edtech tools to enhance her teaching. But when moving to activities beyond Kahoot quizzes, she’s turned to GroupMap.
School Background And Classroom Context
Winthrop Primary is a technology-rich school integrating technology into all curriculum areas. With its 1:1 Device and Bring Your Own Device initiatives, students can participate in class discussions and access learning resources, giving teachers the opportunity to better facilitate class discussion and achieve learning outcomes.
Jenny Cotham is a Primary School Teacher & Community Liaison who teaches middle school students. Her goal is to help teachers design learning opportunities that encourage students to be collaborative, critical thinking and innovative learners.
During the course of the year, Jenny says “ I need to collect and monitor student understanding of learning before, during and after lessons for formative assessment.”
“I want to give each student an opportunity to contribute to a lesson topic and share ideas.” explains Jenny. “Having this done in an organized, scaffolded way would mean saving me time and providing better feedback for each student.”
“I also needed to differentiate and individualize the learning outcome for each student ”She continues. “Outside of the classroom, I wanted a tool that would help gather and organize ideas and feedback from staff meetings, P&C committees, and the School Board so that we have data for decision making.”
Teaching Strategy And Philosophy
Winthrop Primary operates on a Gradual Release of Responsibility instructional framework. Lessons begin by familiarising students with a concept and end with applying understandings and skills independently. GroupMap is used as an online graphic organizer to capture what students think and to facilitate classroom discusssion. It gives each student a voice and keeps them engaged. Teachers can give feedback, facilitate discussion and promote group learning.
Cotham says, “each lesson involves a lot of discussion with students where they can impart and articulate what they understood about the concepts and in turn, learn from each other.” She shares 4 ways she’s used GroupMap as part of her teaching practice and professional life.
1. Graphic Organizers for SMART Goal Setting
Developing a child’s ability to intrinsically set and strive for their own SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) is a valuable life long skill.
Kicking off the term, Cotham asks her students to think about a SMART goal they want to set for themselves. This could range from behaviour to learning strategies to knowledge development.
She asks what kind of challenges they think they might face and what support they needed (from her or others). Finally, she asked them to think about how they would measure their success.
Each student enters their own goals in order to create their own printable copy, as well as a digital copy that can be seen by the teacher. “There’s room for individual input without being biased or influenced by what others have said“ Cotham explains.
Goals could be shared semi-anonymously with the whole group. In other words, students can’t see which goals belong to another student, but the teacher can.
As Cotham states, this also helps to “remove bias and the popularity contest. One of the kids the other day wrote that they could help with another person’s goal in GroupMap. They then realized it wasn’t their friend, but that’s not the point. They were to help anyone in the class.”
This allows them to see common goals and to build peer accountability into the classroom. It gives them the big picture and to feel like they are part of a community.
“Going forward, I know which students need help and what kind of help. I can pair up students as needed. I can also ask them to comment on how they are going, and allows me to give me feedback.” explains Cotham.
2. Graphic Organizers For Classroom Brainstorming
What would happen if? That was the question put to students during Science when they had to brainstorm a list of variables that would impact how fast an alka seltzer tablet dissolves. (Rate of chemical reaction).
The activity was described to the class and the question was put to them. Using GroupMap as their graphic organizer, each student pair would add variables that they thought they could change as part of their experiment. This ranged from the type of liquid to the size of the tablet.
With the answers displayed in front of the class, Cotham and her colleague could easily facilitate group learning.
Watch it in action here.
It’s pretty clear that teaching with technology can significantly enhance your lesson plan, make it more engaging for students when they are part of contributing to the class outcomes.
Best of all, there’s a lot less work for the teacher which is a great time saver. Evidence of learning and understanding can be seen immediately and feedback could be given in real-time. Debunking myths and recognizing thinking was a lot easier without production blocks, students being scared to be called out or having to collect all the ideas individually.
3. Graphic organizers for collaborative, fast staff meetings
As part of their ‘Be The Change Project’, Winthrop school aims to integrate a range of sustainability initiatives as part of the school culture.
The challenge was to bring all the staff onto the same page – and to share their current practices, as well as propose new ones. The statement proposed was:
How can we do that effectively so that everyone sees what is happening in the school, gain visibility into current projects and be inspired to create new ones?
GroupMap was for the teachers to share what they were already doing, as well as brainstorm activities around sustainability initiatives, strategies and tactics for the school. This started from a simple list-making exercise that could then be easily grouped into themes.
Cotham then created a brainstorming chart. On the horizontal axis was Local, National and Global to represent the geographic scope. On the vertical axis was the foci of programs such from pure sustainability to a focus on ATSI indigenous Australians.
Grouped ideas and activities could then be positioned across the chart in order to see where the current focus of the staff’s time, energy and resources were going.
Once all the grouped results were positioned, it was easy to visualize current projects in the school. Workload is reduced by identifying projects that could be worked on collaboratively. Opportunities to integrate projects and reduce workload could then be identified.
One of the initiatives explored was the Gardening Project, which teaches students to grow and harvest their own fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. This helps them understand the food cycle, through to building a sense of community pride as well as getting their hands dirty with nature. They then used this in their own cooking classes and recycle any waste products back to the garden.
A benefit was that all staff instantly see opportunities to collaborate, understand current programs that the school was involved in and then build a sense of school pride.
The outcome, however, was just one benefit. Bringing together a large team of teachers to share their practice is a challenging exercise, let alone getting them to work on the same page. Cotham states “ we are seeing wider school adoption simply because we can use it at our staff meetings as well as the classroom. People get excited to use it and it helps us communicate what is happening a lot easier.”
4. Graphic Organizers For Lesson Planning
Teachers are well versed with the idea of the KWL template. It asks students to share ‘What they know’, ‘What they want to know’, and subsequently What they learned’.
Usually, this is done individually – student by student. This is great but just imagine the power of being able to share the collective wisdom of the group, pair up with research buddies and then reward learning by pointing out interesting facts and learnings.
In this example, Cotham asks students to first share what they already think they know about World War 1. Students are encouraged to “teach” each other based on what they already know. This is done semi-anonymously to avoid reticence.
This is a great way for the teacher to facilitate discussion and give feedback, debunk any myths and to reaffirm current knowledge.
The next step asks them to add ideas about what they would like to learn or find out. This helps to build independent thinking and a sense of inquiry. Giving them more also means they are more engaged in their learning. After all, wouldn’t we all be more interested in something that we were curious about?
Cotham even went a step further to build reflective practice by having students look through the list and pick their top 3 areas of interest. Students could see what other kinds of questions people were asking. Paired research becomes possible because you can group students with common interests together.
It’s heart-warming to see the scope and diversity of questioning that students can come up with when given the opportunity. It creates agency and engagement. Teachers can better focus their time and energy on things that interest the students. They can quickly assess current understanding by harvesting the wisdom of the crowd.
All of these examples show how students move beyond selecting (and sometimes guessing) fixed answers from multiple-choice questions with Apps like Kahoot or Socrative.
Jenny Cotham’s tips for using GroupMap in the classroom
There are so many options to help save you so much time. GroupMap supports a wide range of activities from student work, and classroom ideas to general brainstorming.
Use the partially anonymous feature where you want to promote safety in the classroom. Ideas can be added by students without worrying about what their peers might say. But because you can see who said what and provide feedback to the relevant students.
There are different formats from lists to charts to mind maps. So it’s good to mix up the activities to have a variety of activities.
There’s definitely scope outside of the classroom. Perfect examples include staff input at Teacher Professional development days, PD workshops, and even board meetings.
The lock map feature is really handy to stop students from typing and modifying the map. It helps me get their attention back to the front of the class when I need to give instructions for the next steps.
Just Start IT, an innovative learning program designed to ignite student creativity, is an 18-week inter-school program of student teams made up of Hackers, Hawkers, and Hipsters how to create a Technology Start-Up. GroupMap was used as the judging software solution for the night.
There were more than 200 teams participating in the program for 2015 from 32 different schools across Perth, Australia. The students were introduced to their mentors who helped them dive right into the process of creating a business that solves real-world problems. With their eyes on the finals; everyone was working together to build their solutions using the lean canvas template. It was exciting to see which problems the student start-ups were addressing and their incredible solutions.
The ten finalist student startups included :
Bit Transaction– an Escrow payment solution for Bitcoin. Bitcoin is like cash but for the internet, with the ability to revolutionize the payment industry. Bitcoin has sparked plenty of interest from many power figures including Al Gore, Peter Thiel, and Bill Gates. The problem for Bitcoin spenders is the security of not knowing if they would receive their purchase or not.
“We believe Bitcoins greatest potential is as a global payment network, by providing an escrow payment solution for bitcoin, we will change the way you pay online”. – Aiden Gatani
CrapMap-Australia’s best locator is an application allowing the citizens of Perth the ability to report and review public toilets to the council for maintenance. Their application allows users to discover the cleanest, closest public toilets near you.
Dear Dad– creates different packs to deal with the awkward situation of father-daughter relationships when it comes to the conversations of puberty and relationships. They created a demo pack for the night and described a range of alternative Dear Dad spin-offs.
After months of sleepless nights and early mornings, the student startups pitched their ideas to a crowd of 200 and 9 judges who were all wanting to listen to the bright ideas from the youth in their community.
The judges used GroupMap as a judging platform to provide feedback to each team and to rate their pitches on a scale based on how they sizzled or fizzled. As each student startup pitched their idea, each judge rated them directly on the judging platform, capturing comments and asking questions. Judges included Paul Hodder from Bell Potter, Tony Panetta from DataCom, Michelle Sanford from Microsoft, and Walter Green from Waitta/iAwards.
Here’s a snippet from one of the judges:
Judging was made easy and in real-time. Each student startup was entered directly into GroupMap as a judging software for the night. Each judge’s ranking was combined to give the overall scores and placement of the teams. The list would reorder itself according to the final ratings so that all the teams were ranked from 1 to 10. A team that sizzled meant that they had the right market, the right team and had validated their idea well. Judges simply used their mobile, laptop or table to rate their scores.
The final winning team was Team Getcha – a social media application that solves the problem of receiving unwanted gifts by allowing you take photos of the things you want and allowing your friends to buy this for you. It blended business advertising, social media as part of this “wedding list” style application.
The event organizers were provided with the final list of ranked participants as well as individual reports that could be shared with the student startups to provide them with feedback from the judging panel. The winning team was awarded a $5,000 cash prize and the top 2 teams were also given the opportunity to pitch their ideas at the national iAwards. Two other teams also took out the prizes for innovation.
Best of luck to each of the student teams as they head off on their entrepreneurial journey. See what the organizers had to say below:
We created a GroupMap to use as judging software perfect to the needs of our evening, allowing our judges to listen to the pitches and rate the pitches by filling a toolbar. The judges were also able to enter valuable feedback that they could share with each other via the map throughout the evening. This allowed quick and silent collaboration that was vital to the process. GroupMap also creates feedback reports to us the program leaders to be able to take back to the teams after the event for discussion. This type of feedback for teams that we are taking to market is invaluable.
GroupMap is a fantastic collaboration tool that we want to build permanently into our program. It allows endless collaboration, giving even the most quiet person a voice. I think of GroupMap as The Voice of Collaboration, and could not recommend it more highly.
Held at the AICT in the Central Business District, this Industry currency and vocational competency day were aimed at teachers delivering courses in Applied Information Technology, Business Management, and Computer Science. Kristen Reddin, Founder of Devise PD, aimed to engage participants in a range of new technologies aimed to improve classroom delivery.
The Australian Institute of Commerce and Technology had facilities similar to modern schools with teachers being able to see how a good setup can directly impact the learning experience. Sessions included live streams from the States included young entrepreneurs who had developed their own apps through to TedX talks about the shifting culture of technology.
In this session, ICT teachers were introduced to a range of graphic organizers which they could use to customize the delivery of their lesson plans to improve student engagement and the learning experience. Our goal was to arm them with the ability to create more engaging experiences in the classroom and to boost student’s critical and visual thinking.
What They Know… What They Want to Know
Using a KWL graphic organizer, we asked teachers what they already knew in terms of coding and to get a sense of their current ICT experience and knowledge. This was a quick 3-minute exercise followed by a quick review. Next, we spent a bit more time thinking about what they wanted to know. This would then inform the next presenters and let them focus their session for the audience.
Here’s a snippet of what they said.
This was a fast and effective way of getting a quick “glimpse” into the current skills set of the room. They then dot voted (dotmocracy) to quickly identify the top things they wanted to learn from the rest of the day. This information was then shared with the presenter for the next section of the workshop.
Question and Answer Graphic Organizer
After this session, the teachers then went on to learn more about app development. Here’s what they did.
“Later in the day, we used GroupMap in 2 of the following sessions and it worked really well. I set Simon who was presenting through Google Hangouts, with access to a map. As he presented, people wrote questions which he then read out and answered. It was 1000% superior to a basic webinar.” Kristen Reddin – Founder, Devise PD.
This process lets the people in one room engage with the presenter in another part of the world, all in real-time. Each person asked questions which were suggested to others. If someone else had the same question, they would be able to add it to their own list. The result was a prioritized list of questions, with the most common at the top.
This was a really simple graphic organizer that simply allowed people to create their own lists which then combined into a single list. The bonus, of course, was that with fast session times, more questions could be answered for more people could comment on answers provided.
This session was later evaluated by the organizer, which they were kind enough to share with us here. We were completely pleased that they found the session valuable.
Impact on learning.
Of course, the purpose of this training is to encourage more effective engagement in the classroom and to allow students to be fully involved in the process. Being able to customize the map to the lesson plan lets people sort and categorize ideas, as well as using the group’s own feedback to collectively rank and decide on the key points. It’s a great way to get them actively learning in the classroom. See this blog post here about how graphic organizers were used to explore careers with 200 students.
The next Teacher PD session on graphic organizers in a workshop entitled “Improving Critical Thinking and Decision Making” will be held at Curtin University for the Financial, Administrative and Professional Services Training Council. Tickets have already been fully sold out but if you are interested in further training – please contact us here. Additional free lesson plans with a range of graphic organizers can be downloaded here.
As part of Careers Week, Ashdale Secondary College held a series of interactive activities and workshops focussed on careers – highlighting the skills and attributes students needed in the workplace. Using interactive technology to improve student engagement, students creatively imagined future jobs then voted for the “coolest”. Based on the top job, they then had to brainstorm online the skills, knowledge, and personal attributes necessary for that job. With such a neat idea, we had to share some of the graphic organizers they used.
Lynne Makin from Ashdale Secondary College reiterated the great need for career guidance to be promoted and celebrated in local schools. “It’s important that we invest the time to support young people with advice and guidance which puts them on the right track to careers success at the earliest opportunity,” She said the initiative was about inspiring students to achieve their dreams and encouraging them to ask the right questions.
The session kicked off with Co-Founder Jeremy Lu sharing his personal career journey, then asking students to imagine what jobs would exist in 2050. Here’s the graphic organizer they used – a simple list used to capture the different kinds of jobs. From DNA based credit cards to Exo soldier to nuclear engineers, there certainly wasn’t a shortage of unique professions.
What jobs do you think will exist in 2050?
Students were then asked to consider and discuss the different ideas and to dot vote on the one that they thought was the job that would be the most creative and worth exploring further. As you can see, Food Printer topped the list. Seem off the radar? Perhaps not. In fact, talented Dutch industrial Chloe Rutzerveld is already exploring this space creating artistic portions of healthy based finger foods.
With the job of food printer in mind, a graphic organizer was created with the following 4 headings:
1. Skills – What they can do
2. Knowledge – Knowing why they do what they do
3. Experience – Time spent doing what they do
4. Attributes – Personal traits that decide how they do what they do
This was a great way to gather ideas from students about what was needed to secure those future jobs. As students completed their brainstorm online, these were shared in real time with everyone, including the teacher so that it could be used as a tool for facilitating discussions. It was really interesting to see where students struggled and where they were on the right track.
What skills, knowledge, experience and attribute do you need to be a Food Printer?
This information and discussion became the basis of the ensuing workshops aimed to hone those skills and knowledge. Industry mentors and representatives were invited to speak to share their experience, as well as some goal setting challenges for each student to consider what they could do to plan for their future career. This was a great scene setter and helped teach students the importance of building and creating your own future.
So what did the students think about this approach?
(Our thanks to the teachers who helped collect and send us this feedback)
“It was cool to see the ideas on the screen and amazing how the technology brought everyone together.”
“Very creative session and fun to work with others.”
“This session showed us how easy it was to use GroupMap to help us learn new things in a fun way.”
“It helped me relate to the task as technology is a big part of our lives.”
If you are keen to create your own graphic organizers to improve student engagement in the classroom, you can try the above to run your own career exploration activities or check out more lesson plans.
About the Author
Vicki Hodgson is a business management Lecturer who previously worked within Education in the UK. She has developed and delivered leadership and management programs at one of the UK’s foremost Further Education colleges. Vicki was nominated for two national enterprise awards in 2014 and won the academic staff member of the year in 2012. She has continued her work with Curtin University and Edith Cowan University in Australia.
It was a fantastic turnout as teachers gathered for a lightning 6-minute GroupMap session. This activity involved a frenzy of phalanges as we explored the use of the KWHLAQ model for improving scientific inquiry. Think of it like the traditional KWL (know-What- Learn) template but with a few additional steps to extend student learning. Graphic organizers like KWHLAQ provide a simple and effective way to complement your lesson plan through a process of reflection, collective sharing, questioning and applying.
We asked a few volunteers on the day to help us out with the activity here using a BuzzFeed video with a few snippets about the human brain. You can see some of the things they added from their iPhone, iPad or table on the day. It’s a quick snap shot of how an edutech-enabled KWHLAQ runs. Of course, this was a quick 5-minute exercise – it’s up to you how deep you want to take each activity.
In practice, this is an activity that you run across the length of your lesson plan, whether or not you have a flipped classroom. Here’s an example of a lesson plan.
How does the KWHLAQ impact student learning?
It may just seem like a series of questions, but each one leads them through Blooms taxonomy from recall through to synthesis and application. The starting point is to pick your topic. This tool is subject agnostic so it can be as simple as “What is the Sun?” through to “What are the key elements of forensic chemistry investigations.”
Here is the run down on each stage so you can decide how it might apply to what you teach:
K – Let’s start with what you know.
This gets students to recall what they already know about the subject and activates conversations – who knows.. you may learn something new yourself! This is a good way for you to offer feedback or to challenge some of their initial assumptions, encouraging them to back it up with facts.
By quickly capturing the wisdom of the group, you get a sense of the starting point for the group. I recommend doing this as an individual exercise to begin with. Individual silent brainstorming at this stage gives each person the opportunity to draw our more specific information and a way for each student to start thinking about the topic. It gets them all involved straight away and is often a way to see who has “contributed” the most in the first stage.
Once you think there is enough input, open it up to class discussion and feedback. At this point, I like to provide a bit of content, a video or a few slides on the topic to add to or validate what the students have put forward.
W – What would you like to find out?
This steps promotes inquisitive thinking, giving students the opportunity to design and create their own learning experience. Encourage them to question what might not be known and to consider why they are asking the question. Creativity is key here. You might add a few key things that you have to cover from the curriculum but then provide a little space for new discoveries. Sharing what people have put forward is a good way to inspire new perspectives.
If you are really short on time, you can ask students to vote on the things they want to find out about the most. This will help focus the class on the key questions.
This list can help you design your next class or act as a blue print for the next step.
H – How would you find out?
This step encourages students to take charge of their learning. They have to think of the sources of information to answer those questions. Not everything should just be Googled. They may have to talk to others, design their own experiments, look at referenced articles or interview an expert. If they are heading towards a design of an experiment, you may wish to separate this out to a separate activity around experimental design. I tend to give the most feedback here because I find that this is where they need the most guidance or lack specificity. Throwing in a few examples you expect from them doesn’t hurt.
Once this is done, they can start their research or activities. This is usually where there majority of time is spent.
L – What did you learn?
Once the class or activity is over, this reflective exercise asks students to summarise key learning from their work to be shared with the class. This is key to see if there have been any new facts gathered in the process. I love being able to give a thumbs up for new information that I find remarkable or worth recognising the effort put in. This can sometimes be a step done after student presentations so that it can brings in learning from the whole class.
A – What actions can you take?
Great job so far. Now it’s time to make it real by asking students to think of a few ways the new found knowledge can be applied on a day to day perspective or to solve a different problem. By translating knowledge into action, this helps them consolidate information into a real application. It’s up to you how much emphasis you want to put to this. Sometimes the thinking is enough, and other times, you actually want to go further to make it real, adding in comments and pictures.
Q – What new questions do you have?
Often the more we find out, the more questions we have, so this last step captures any new questions that may have come from the first round of activities. It teaches the importance of continued questioning and how our questions advance as we discover more. It might even be the catalyst for the start of a new topic.
Whilst you can do the activity above on paper, you can also use digital visual organizers to reduce manual collation and to give better real-time feedback. GroupMap, for example, let’s you switch between brainstorming styles, provide comments to students, vote in real-time and see what individual students as well as the whole class did.
The KWHLAQ template reminds us that we need to build on our existing pool of knowledge, be curious, scientific and deliberate, to share our findings with others in order to build on the knowledge pool and to apply it to solving real world problems. Aren’t these the basic principles of being a good science citizen after all?
Thanks again to the wonderful folks at TeachMeet and SciTech for inviting us along and to @EmCummuskey for this shout out. I hope the above is helpful in helping you deliver your next lesson.
Have you applied the KWHLAQ activity in your classroom? What other tips can you give?
What is TeachMeet?
TeachMeet is a volunteer run organisation for Teachers by Teachers based on lightning quick presentations of teaching in practice. Our presentation was run at SciTech.
About the author
Jeremy Lu has been a lecturer and tutor at Curtin University for the last 8 years, recognised as Sessional Lecturer of the Year 2014 at Curtin Business School. He is currently the School Business Manager for Science and has also helped start up teams with commercialisation of ideas. He has facilitated strategy and planning workshops with previous business management and training in the Health, Education and hospitality industry. He co-founded GroupMap as an online brainstorming tool to help improve the way people share ideas and a tool to help facilitators and educators improve the learning and decision quality of a group.