My enthusiasm for software that supports human thinking and problem solving is unchanged.
After several articles and videos on mind mapping software, here’s a new approach:
Using notebook software (here: OneNote from Microsoft).
OneNote provides a number of features that are very useful for problem solvers:
- outlining text,
- very flexible tables,
- diagrams and
- freehand notes.
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The following article is an English translation of something I’ve written for the 2010 Mind-Akademie.
From the introduction:
“Solving problems is one of the most important things we humans can do. On the other hand, computers are one of our most useful inventions. So it is not surprising that computers are used for countless aspects of problem solving. (Moreover, they make invaluable contributions to the field of problem
creation.) But helping people immediately with the job of thinking, of creating and evaluating ideas – that’s where computers are much less often used.
This article shows how it can be done.”
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The following article describes how to use mind mapping software for computer-aided problem solving and thinking.
It provides links to
- a problem map tool map template and
- a tool map, with a large repository of problem solving tools.
The article is best read in full screen mode. Just click the right button on the bar below the document.
It seems difficult to overemphasize the importance of problem solving skills. I find it all the more puzzling that many powerful problem solving techniques are much less common than one should expect.
Moreover, little attention is directed towards a comprehensive technology of problem solving.
Such a technology may comprise
- “hardware” (from simple pens and writing pads to sophisticated interactive whiteboards and beyond),
- routines of behaviour (usage of hard- and software) and
- a process of improving these elements.
(This list is not exhaustive. We could add the brain and ways of manipulating it – by training, drugs or, another brainstorming item, by genetical engineering.)
This post presents some basic ideas on a technology of problem solving. Please comment and add your ideas!
We describe a basic model, introduce some elementary concepts and present a number of modifications to the basic model.
The seminal ideas
Our most basic model looks like this:
We make parallel use of two paper mind maps:
- a “problem map”, where we examine the given problem, and
- a “tool map”, which is a repository of problem solving tools.
To make things more transparent, here are some ideas how a tool map may look like.
We use 5 stages, for example the IDEAL model:
- I = Identify the problem
- D = Define alternative goals
- E = Explore possible strategies
- A = Assess and act
- L = Look back and learn
We may attach a couple of problem solving tools to each of these stages, e.g. creativity methods like brainstorming for exploring possible strategies.
If we get stuck while working on our problem, we may consult the tool map for inspiration; or we may add a useful tool to the tool map.
Here are some general elements of this basic model:
- We have some way of representing our thoughts on the problem – in this case mind mapping. We will call this the “substrate” of problem solving.
- We may have a second substrate for representing tools. In the above case however, we use again mind mapping.
- We have the problem solving tools itself. I like the idea of having only one “master tool” – in the above case the master tool consists of the stage structure and the single tools attached to the stages.
Modifications of problem solving substrate and tool representation substrate
Here is an incomplete list of alternative substrates.
Instead of mind mapping we could use…
- ordinary written notes, either on paper or computers,
- computer mind maps,
- alternative arrangements, e.g. in a system of linked nodes,
- whiteboard pages on the internet for online collaboration,
- spoken words, e.g. talk to yourself,
- collaborative versions, e.g. discuss with others and let them suggest tools for tackling the problem.
Modifications of the master tool
Here are some ideas – instead of the elementary IDEAL model described above we could use
- a more specialized model, e.g. for solving math problems,
- a master tool that comprises several basic architectures, e.g. one collection of tools arranged by stages (as in the IDEAL model), another collection arranged by elements from the problem domain (in the math example, we could collect tools for dealing with sequences, series, vectors, matrices) and a third collection for dealing with difficult problem solving situations (frustration, getting stuck, running out of time).
The process of gradual improvement
To recap the paragraphs above – in the process of gradual improvement we can try to improve
- the hardware – e.g., large screens are a blessing when using mind mapping software,
- the software – a variety of layouts (maps, tables) in a single package is nice,
- the substrates of problem solving and tool representation – again, a mix of representations is best,
- the routines of behaviour – e.g. how often to change between direct work on the problem and some “metacoginitive” reflection,
- the “master tool” in its structure and its single items – e.g. things like asking “why” in several iterations often prove to be astonishingly powerful.
This 8:55 minute video presents a number of ideas on problem solving:
– mind mapping and some variations
– problem solving tools
– the combination of a problem map and a tool map
– the IDEAL problem solving process developed by Bransford / Stein
The punch line ideas start at about 5:20, they need some preparation.
I’m delighted if you leave some comment.
In this post I collect some of my material on problem solving, math problem solving and mind mapping.
Please leave a comment on scribd.com.