1. When did first become aware of the TheBrain?
Mikko: It must be about 4 years ago, I was a doing a paper with a quite a few reference documents and what I wanted to have was a repository to drop them in. All at the same develop the paper and the structure of the paper and I wanted to have a repository to tie it into the structure. I was looking for some sort of mind mapping type tool and I just stumbled them on the web.
Chris: You didn’t see a demo of it or anything?
Chris: just found it by searching or googling it?
2. Why did you want try it out with your students?
Chris: What were you thinking at the time?
Mikko: What I find is that the students don’t read enough and just assigning chapters and books or a lot of the web resources that comes with textbooks and articles, that they do not engage. If I present a pretty massive thing on the screen and I’m able to put materials onto wiks, some videos, articles, weblinks and so on to the actual programs and actual slides. My thinking was that they would start exploring materials and hopefully reading around the topic. As you know I teach history and management and there’s strategies happening all around us so when I’m reading the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal, I pick this other snippets and I put it into a relevant week so I’m bringing the materials to the students.
Chris: We’ll develop some of those things in a bit more time as well.
Chris: When you first started it.
Mikko: Yes 4 years ago. It’s relatively easy because it’s just a click and drop. The difficulty is to understand the linkages because it works on notes because you have parent, you have child thoughts, you have system thoughts.
Chris: But that’s with the structuring but the initial putting stuff into TheBrain?
Mikko: Yes very easy but it becomes a model if you don’t organise it.
b) What were the main difficulties you faced when uploading content to the TheBrain (if any)?
Mikko: The uploading is very easy, you drag and drop.
Chris: So you’re uploading files, word documents..
Mikko: Word documents, I can put in pdfs, I can do weblinks, videos, I have my blogs, the whole thing is there.
Chris: You don’t have problems with any of that, putting that in?
Mikko: No it’s fine it’s a very solid and robust.
4. Have you experienced any technical difficulties using the TheBrain? (Did the students have any problems accessing the TheBrain)
Chris: Did you have problems
Chris: What about your students
Mikko: We’ve been running it for 2 terms. The first term the way, the licence I have is that I can, I create the brain, in this case the business strategy module brain. And I’m the administrator of that so I can then send emails through the settings function on the brain to my students to access the materials as a reader and email a no reply email is generated by the brain. And then effectively what the students do is they should just click on the link and fill their details and get into the system. Now I have not spoken to the brain but a number of students were not able to log in. and my thinking is and it is something we perhaps do is talk to the brain and perhaps get some the materials to them. Is there might be some sort of a time limit after which the email link becomes obsolete.
Chris: Stuff is working.
Mikko: Yes stuff is working. So last term I had to ask a number of students to re send their email to me at different email addresses so then I can invite them in.
Chris: Is that roughly a big percentage of students?
Mikko: No and again, based on my completely honest scientific sampling of this, this is where the students were not really engaged in the classes. I think they were in the back end and just didn’t bother and didn’t get the links. Or not getting them to sign in.
Chris: We’re not really sure whether it’s them who can’t actually be bothered to go in and register TheBrain or whether it is something wrong. Maybe we need to investigate that a little bit.
Mikko: But I’ll come to that in a minute because this term things have been working tikity boo.
Chris: We can come back to that.
5. Has TheBrain affected (or could affect) the way you teach in the classroom?
Chris: Maybe describe what you do in the classroom first?
Mikko: What I do is open up the WebBrain which is the cloud functionality of the brain in the classroom. And in effect you have the totality visible so you have all the materials on it, so for example today’s the first week of the term and I have a one note that goes through or details of the content. And today is to say for the next 3 weeks we are going study the following areas and as I said these are the top line headings and will be drilling down into the following components. I’m clicking on the notes, opening up, drilling into the content so for the next 3 weeks they know what’s coming. And then I say let’s move on to today’s lecture. So I have one note that has the lecture slides so I open up with 1, lecture 2 and out pops the overhead but also on that weekly programme or today’s lecture I have links that come which I have stored down in videos and companies in the and so on. News and so on. So I have other materials that links into that specific session. So I say to the students by the way, we’re going through the slides the formal lecture but there’s additional information that relates to what we are discussing. And the resources are here. So going back into the question you asked me earlier, what I’m trying to get the students to do, often they are just looking for the PowerPoint slides but now what they do is click on that slide content they also get additional links to additional materials within that session.
Chris: Just again as an aside the first time you use it with students, I presume it’s the first time they’ve seen it as well?
Chris: Do you get any initial reaction in the classroom?
Mikko: They sit up, it’s something that looks different. It grabs attention and that was part of this thing is, is grabbing the attention. Something slightly different they can face. The question is then is when they start using it.
Chris: Which is another issue, which relates to the next question.
6. How does the WebBrain compare to using Blackboard?
Mikko: My personal opinion is, because in the way I think is more in pictures, maps and connections and I can deal with the messiness and dynamic nature of thoughts that come into these notes. To me that is the better way of thinking of what I’m doing rather than in a linear filing system which is just clicking into files and opening them up. Because those files are not really interlinked are they? and that to me is the biggest difference. That’s the personal way of learning.
Chris: If you got that way of thinking then a proportion of your students will have that way of thinking, it’s across the board.
7. What do you think were the benefits of TheBrain to the students and yourself?
Mikko: The benefit to me is I use the brain in a lot of my work for various different projects so the brain is always open on my laptop. Coming in the morning and I open up the financial times or there’s an article about Apple’s market capitalisation yesterday in Forbes and I say what an interesting article and I just click on it and dump it into the relevant week in the student brain so it’s instantaneous. So rather than say I have to open up Blackboard and need to think about what files I want to put it in, it’s a natural process because I’m teaching, I’m lecturing, I’m developing materials, so when I see something I can do very easily the transfer process.
And for students, because I’m able to make that connection because when I see something it goes in instantaneously into the student brain. They probably get more materials from me then if I had to say well ok today I’m going to do something on Blackboard. I open up the Blackboard and say what kind of materials I’m going to go and put on there and start searching for it. This is slightly a different way, I see something it goes in.
8. In your opinion what were the main disadvantages of using the TheBrain?
Chris: Is there any disadvantage to you?
Mikko: Over the past 4 years I have become so comfortable using it that in fact I was toying with the idea of putting all my files into the brain rather than having anything on my Mac.
Chris: What about the students?
Mikko: The students I think it’s the messiness because it is slightly messy because it is a dynamic knowledge repository and they are ‘thoughts’. And I had a student today who said ‘I was on the brain but I was only able to see the videos’ I said you probably just clicked on one and didn’t spend some time on it. It takes some time for the students to understand it and spend time exploring the linkages and if you open up to explore it all the materials are there, then yes its a real mess because there’s so much stuff in there, all visible. So if you are just looking for one piece of information without having gone through all the various different top level information that I have categorized, it’s not as simple as going ok, week 1, week 2, Blackboard ‘boom’, open up the file.
Chris: We may come back and look at some of the solutions to that if there are, I don’t know.
9. What changes are you planning to make next Semester to the TheBrain?
Chris: Compared to last semester, are you delivering the same module, obviously to a different cohort of students, what are the changes you are planning to do.
Mikko: The first change was to give to students a user guide.
Chris: You’ve done that already. Did that get a reaction at all?
Mikko: I think it went down well because in fact they had something tangible first of all, they were given a 2 page user guide that you wrote and that prompted them to take action. So the first lecture was on Monday and this morning, about 2/3 of the students have already logged in.
Chris: How does that compare to last semester, if you remembered at all?
Mikko: I think it’s significantly higher. Nobody has come to me saying ‘I have a problem I cannot log in’, it’s brilliant. And the stats that is provided to the owner of the site, I think I have so far had about 80 openings and 450 clicks. So it shoots up. So that was a major improvement.
The second thing what I’m doing is that if you look at the bottom of the screen you can put notes in, so you have the presentation mode or just have the blue space with the thoughts. You can adjust that and in the bottom you have notes so what I’m doing is I’m also writing a very brief couple sentence summaries of the materials that will be covered at each of the lectures and if I add an additional link I say ‘by the way I have added a link about this company or a video about this company that relates to the …
Chris: That gives students more guidance around TheBrain.
Mikko: Yes. And again that is, ok Mikko is writing about this video that is relevant to the lecture so maybe they will actually play it and that is exploring and reading around the topic more.
Chris: Which were the objectives in the first place.
10. Do you use the TheBrain to evaluate how much work the students are doing on your module?
Chris: I suppose you are looking at the stats so you’ve already answered that in one sentence.
Mikko: I look at the stats but I’m not able to really have access to what they are doing with the brain. I can see they have access to that but I am not able to see the total or which areas they go to or which students and so on.
Chris: If you had a different licence, would it provide that?
Mikko: I don’t know
Chris: I suppose we can do a bit more investigation about that and see if it can give us that type of information.
11. In your opinion does the TheBrain engage students with low levels of motivation?
Chris: Because that was one of your objectives, you said at the start you wanted to provide the information to your students and you wanted to do it in a more engaging way. Now that sounds like it’s doing that to some extent but what about the students who are really, I wouldn’t say totally cut off from what you’re doing, they want to get through the module with minimum effort whatsoever, is it touching those students?
Mikko: I can’t tell you. As I said there’s still 1/3 of students who have not signed on, are those students who don’t care. What we have done is driving students on this platform because we are saying we are not making these materials available on Blackboard, driving the other students to the brain because we’re not making the materials available on Blackboard. So at minimum I would expect that students if they come to a lecture they would then also open up the lecture slides. Then again there are students in this place who never come to lectures they only come to seminars because they take attendance at the seminars. I think students who make the effort of logging in and make the effort of at least opening up some of the files. My thinking is that the materials because it is accessible is there although it might be slightly overwhelming, will encourage students to explore. Students in the past who just open up the lecture slides probably have a bit more incentive to see what else is there. But students who are completely disengaged they don’t open up Blackboard or they don’t open up anything, they don’t open up lectures. They overstep that.
12. Has the introduction of the TheBrain changed your overall workload?
Mikko: It has changed in a way that it’s constantly in the background. Because like I said, if I’m reading something I might be at home at 10pm in the evening and something pops up and I say oh that’s an interesting article to put into my week 5 lecture. So click and put it in, so in that sense the work is there constantly me in a background.
Chris: So the answer is yes but it doesn’t feel onerous – I guess you’re wanting to do it yourself you can see the advantages as a pay back for you
Mikko: Yes. In that sense with the Blackboard. I just say I’m going to do a Blackboard session now, I’m going to create this stuff with Blackboard I can upload my lectures etc.
Chris: This changes the way you work, with the brain you’re constantly there doing it in small bits, where as if you’re working with Bb and VLE you have to sit down with a pc somewhere and do it in a time slot. And maybe change the hours you’re doing it.
Of course if you have the brain opened up in a small window on my laptop and I have the financial times open on the other window and there’s an interesting article, I just drag it over and drop it into the brain. And of course with Blackboard you’re not able to do that sort of thing you need to have the uploading coming from one program to another, it is actually more timely, time consuming on Blackboard then it is on the brain.
13. Would you like Regent’s College to give you more support to develop your TheBrain? If so, what further help do you need
Mikko: What I like to do is to allow students to do some assignments on the brain and for that I need to have is what I think is called the team brain.
Chris: How would an assignment work on TheBrain.
Mikko: Good question, let me explain that to you. So I have a few course work assignments and one of the assignments is thesis analysis of a firm within a script and it is effectively a desk research assignment and the students have to collect quite a bit of material from various different sources to do the written report. And with the technology students work at different locations and very often with the assignments they have to physically come together and play with a piece of paper, ‘I printed that out, you bring what you printed out, and this is what we’ve done’. The team brain is a collaboration tool, so although I have not explored it that much, what you’re able to do is you have a ‘create a work space so people can drop them I’m doing an analysis of this industry, I’m looking at these competitors, and I’m looking at bringing materials and they will be able to drop this.
Chris: I see so you would have students working in a team, each team would have its own brain.
Mikko: Absolutely, for that project. And they are going to start developing issues, with note on that, recommendations, and note on that. And start putting materials and then all the materials, the knowledge, the documents and the web links and so on, are on that brain. At some point they’ll just need to say, ‘how are we going to then put this together and write it up?’
Chris: And then you would have a collection of those little brains and case studies around those issues?
Mikko: And I think that would be a fantastic assignment. Because again, don’t forget the other part of this, my drive for the brain is to show students that in business, as it is in life we are increasingly having to deal with more and more information and we need to be able to put that information, put that thinking into somewhere. And technology is an enabler. It’s there and they are in their twenties and I’m a dinosaur compared to them but all this thinking will, why not take advantage of the technology while it’s there? It would be great to get that type of licence.
Chris: Definitely need to check that out actually and see how much that will cost and the practicality it doing that. Is that shifting the way you are using the brain from a repository of information into actually an interactive thing that students are working with it would be quite a different way of using it isn’t it?
Mikko: Everything student would have a study group and they could create their own virtual team with the platform and repository
Chris: I will have to check that out in a bit with you.
14. Would you like to make any other comments about the TheBrain?
Mikko: It takes a while to get comfortable with it, but again when we were talking, I have all kind of stuff I put in the first year or 6 months I used it. And I deleted them because they were messy and so on and so forth, and I guess our brains are messy in the way we hold this information. And there is a technique to start thinking about how things work. We are trained very often in the west to think in a sort of linear way.
Chris: Even if our brains don’t work like that because we’ve been trained in that way we end up using that as a way of learning.
Mikko: Exactly. Little boxes of open it up. But here all the time this is top of the roster here You know blank canvas and you start throwing ideas.
Chris: How did you learn this, through trial and error?
Mikko: Yes just through trial and error. I mean the good thing about the brain is that they have a significant repositories or use of videos and for various different. And I used to listen to them, the webinars. You have people who write books, they do the book structures on that and that in fact is what draw me to this in the first place. I do my doctorate research on that. And also the book structure, the book brain, is something I think we can also pass on to the students for them to do on a collaborative basis, do a big term paper. I think it’s a great platform. I haven’t across anybody in the UK who uses it in the academic context so I hope they will carry on developing it, and do well. I think what we need to check out is obviously is if you’re going to take this further at the university is to see, what sort of company it is how solid it is, there been upgrades coming all the way in the past 4 years, so its pretty solid to me.
This is a short paper looking at how to TheBrain is being to support the students learning experience on a Business Strategy module on the second year of a BA in International Business.
What is TheBrian? TheBrain.com software was designed in the USA by TheBrain Technologies to be used as a mind mapping and ‘personal knowledge base’ tool. Its original intention was to help commercial companies organise, store, retrieve and make commercial decisions. It uses a dynamic graphical interface (that has a 3D effect) which helps to map hierarchical and network relationships. It includes the ability to add links to Web pages, YouTube videos and files as well as notes and events using a built-in calendar It is cross-platform, available for Windows and Mac OS X. It is available in a free edition as well as in commercial editions with additional features. TheBrain has a Cloud functionality that allows multiple users to access the material uploaded to the system. Access to the material can be controlled by the owner of the original Brain.
Firstly I will explain how TheBrain is being used in a teaching context of the Business Strategy module. I will show how the learning materials are organised in TheBrain, uploaded material includes; module syllabus, assignment briefings, lecture slides, additional readings in PDF format, video, and web links. Also there is a self-contained section for module revision that includes key syllabus areas and examples of past examinations. I will also show that TheBrain has a non-linear way of organising its content that differs from more standard VLE’s, such as Blackboard or Moodle.
Secondly, I intend to briefly outline how we are evaluating the use of TheBrain in this pilot project. Towards the end of the first semester I asked the students to complete a short questionnaire on their experiences of using TheBrain. The results gave an interesting mix of opinions; some of the students liked its non-linear approach whilst others became lost in the complexity of TheBrain as they had to explore the linkages to access relevant material. I also followed this up by interviewing the lecturer to find out his views on using it as an aide to deliver the module. This process was repeated in a second semester and the results were compared.
To conclude I will outline some of the improvements we made to make TheBrain easier to use and more accessible for the students. I will outline some of its main advantages and disadvantages from both a student and lecturer’s perspective. Finally, I will outline our future plans to develop The Brain on this module and plan future assessment opportunities using the ‘TeamBrain’.
Phillips, R., McNaught, C., Kennedy, G. 2012. Evaluating e-Learning: guiding research and practice. Abingdon: Routledge.
TheBrain.com. Available at http://www.thebrain.com/[Accessed 9th March 2013]
Evaluating the Brain. Available at https://totallyrewired.wordpress.com//?s=mikko Accessed 9th March 2013.