Tool Review: Popplet, an online mind map tool… and more!

When giving out a writing project to their students, it is often a custom for teachers to try and give their students some pointers on how to come up with ideas to write their text. They might suggest some creativity techniques in order to help them form decent points and jog their creativity. Such creativity techniques may include brainstorming, the six thinking hats, the five Ws or mind mapping.

The latter option, mind mapping, will be the subject matter for this review. Mind mapping can be used with two intents: Either to draw some ideas surrounding a specific idea or subject out of our minds before writing a text, much like a brainstorm, or to organize the ideas read in a text as a kind of reminder that looks better than simple point forms. However, unlike the blunt form of a brainstorm, a mind map can literally take shape, using images as well as words to create roots that surround the main idea and divide into ever smaller sub-sections.

Guru_Mindmap

This brings us to the tool I decided to review for this article, namely: Popplet. Popplet is an online mind map creator available to all ages and especially to people with little experience with computers. It is relatively new as it has been put together in 2013 and has been thriving since. It is free of charge but can be upgraded to a 3.00$ monthly plan or a 30.00$ yearly plan that enables some more features(the price isn’t really worth it in my opinion). It is a great learning tool as much as it is a dynamic mind mapping tool. It is a great tool for visual people and is great to learn about simple features of many virtual tools such as dragging, double clicking creation and editing basics.

Firstly, it enables individuals to create a personal profile with the ability to save their mind maps online without having to save them on the computer itself. And if a person only wants to produce a popplet without registering, they can click on  »try it out’, and voilà! They can start building a mind map just like that. Popplet is very user-friendly as it gives the newly registered user the choice to view some tutorials before getting started. These tutorials explain all of the functionalities that the user has at his disposal.To get a better idea on how to use popplet, here is a website that walks you through all of the utilities it has to offer: https://edshelf.com/tool/popplet

After viewing the tutorials the user is left with a simple interface that gives him popplets examples on the right of the screen and the ability to start creating a popplet on the top left. Selecting this option will open a message box that asks the user to name his popplet and chose a background color, then to start creating his/her mind map the user clicks on  »make it so »(do I sense a reference from Star Trek). To  beggin the user can simply double click in the blank space to creat a  »popple » which consists of a single rounded rectangle in which either text, images or even videos can be imbedded. From the original popple then appears dots located at each side of the rectangle that, if clicked, will produce and adjacent popple linked to the first one by a grey string. This is how the mapping can begin. By connecting different popples to one another, the user can make his own sense of what he wishes to express in an original way. As mentioned before, popples can contain more than text. They can include pictures uploaded from the computer, they can have youtube videos imbedded in them as well as drawings that can be made on the spot using a drawing tool similar to Microsoft’s  »paint » accessory tool. This is a great feature to integrate visual aids and to maintain the attention of whoever the user presents his popplet to. The user can also insert map locations using googlemaps as well as another previously saved popplet in a popple of his current popplet (Poppletception?). Popples can also be changed colors in order to visually indicate different groups or sub-categories.

Popplets can be worked on individually or collaboratively between registered users. Once the popplet is done, the user can chose to export his work as a PDF or a JPEG or PNG image that he can then print or send via e-mail for people to view it. The popplet can also be morphed to a presentation format where the user chooses the order of the popples and can navigate through them using the left and right arrows on a keybord. This can come in handy to create dynamic powerpoint-like presentations.

It should also be noted that popplet is also a downloadable app for the IPad and can be used just as easily. If you wish to get an idea of how the app looks and feels here is an informative youtube video.

Online critics that I have visited describe Popplet as minimalist tool that can help greatly with students that enjoy visual support over textual note taking. A popular pedagodical reviewing website such as teacherfirst.com praises Popplet and mention that:

Though Popplet looks simple and limited, it is probably one of the easiest to use.

However, even as dynamic and easy to use a tool it may be, there is still some drawbacks to Popplet . The first downside is its’ instability. I speak of personal experience when I say that most of the time, the website experiences lags which can corrupt the data or impede the saving process. A warning message displays at the right bottom corner of the screen almost all the time. Never have I been able to work on a popplet without this issue showing up at any given time. At times, the pre-saved popplets are rendered unavailable in the main interface, which can be a real bummer when you want to consult a previously saved project. My educated guess  as to why this issue keeps on showing up is that perhaps it is due to the site’s servers; they might not be spacious enough yet to accommodate all users due to the site’s fairly young age. The second drawback is the fact that a free user registration will allow you to make only 5 popplets projects. This makes Popplet a rather short term choice since 5 popplets is a very limited amount.

To end this review, here is how I would use Popplet as an effective ESL teaching tool. I have used Popplet.com for school purposes and I would see it as a very viable tool for small projects. Like mentioned in the beginning of this review, popplet is a great tool for all ages so it could apply to both young or old audiences that are discovering the marvels of virtual possibilities. Setting aside the language teaching for a moment,(part of the teachers’ curriculum is to be a facilitator in technologies)  it could be an easy tool to teach them about some basics of the virtual tools out there prior to taking on some more complex software. As a language tool it cool be used to:

  • Explore new ideas and make links using mind mapping as a creativity tool.
  • Oraganize ideas taken from a previously read text.
  • Serve as presentation to the classroom.
  • Create scrapbook-like projects.
  • Draw basic flowcharts.

Tool Review: Wix, an online website building tool

There are many website builders available on the web, most of them very simple to use and free. Aside from WordPress there is a wide panel of website builder used for different intent and purposes. There are business oriented builders like simplewebstores.com and webflow.com which enable people to create online stores for clients to visit and purchase goods online. Others are used as online portfolio pages like squarespace.com, while some like yola.com are more for users that want the looks of a professional-looking website without having to put up with third party advertisement. Choosing between one builder and another is a question of taste and purpose of the said site.

All these sites share some basic characteristics in common: They are free of charge for the most part and do not require any coding skills with their variety of customizable templates to work on. They can be shared over the wide range of social medias and some of them even have mobile application formats, making it easy to share and consult whenever and wherever the users, followers or clients wish to.

However great these online tools may be, the one I decided to pick for this review is a very particular one called Wix. Wix.com is a stand-alone cloud-based platform that stands out by its’ fair mixture between complexity and creativity. Wix came a long way, says critic Steve Benjamins :

By far, one of the most popular website builders, Wix has built its reputation on building “stunning” websites. Originally, “stunning” websites really meant “Flash” websites because Wix was one of the best Flash website builders.

However, due to its’ incompatibility with mobile usage and the fact that it doesn’t mingle well with search engines, the Flash format was replaced by HTML5 websites. By giving users access to over a hundred different customizable templates with countless images, clipart and icons, Wix has a very fresh and very unique approach on website design. It can be used to build a site for almost any intent and purposes.

Some say that Wix lacks the structure of many website builders, making it impossible to switch between templates once most of the website has been created without losing or corrupting the format. In simple terms: Unlike many builders, Wix lets users create pretty much anything they want from scratch, adding some animation here, removing some links there and create various sub-sections to a same thumbnail, etc. However great the creative possibilities may be, this can be seen as a drawback on a programming point of view. In a website builder like WordPress for example, as user can switch from template to template and keep their content intact due to the programming structure behind the builder. In Wix, that is not the case since users are allowed such a vast liberty, making it hard for programmed subroutines to adapt between different formats. Regardless, I still believe it gives more freedom to the user and originality to the websites themselves.

Using a simple drag and drop mechanic for all the creation process of the website, users can easily shape their website to their every desires. Another fascinating thing regarding the HTML5 format is that it allows users to create stunning effects and animations on their page, using very simple tools to guide the creator. It is truly a treat to work with this builder because it requires only creativity and a varying level of patience proportionate to the desired look of the final product. This gives users the opportunity to make their website very interactive. As an additional perk, a Wix website can also include a customizable online store using the Ecommerce premium plan. The website can also incorporate a blog or an interactive forum by letting users comment via their facebook accounts on your site. The format is also adaptable for mobile or portable devices such as tablets or phones with a slight drawback: it does not really convert the format from the computer version to a mobile which can result in further adjustments to the format for it to look as slick as it would on a monitor. This again is due to the lack of structure making it hard to simply convert the format from one medium to another.

Wix has been given some very good reviews and is considered one of the most versatile and fun to use website creator by many users. It is said to be a very dynamic and intuitive tool with easy management perks that allows the administrators to maintain a constant eye on the news on their sites through the use of reminders that can be in the form of notification on a phone for example. The site remains customizable at any given time and can be administrated very openly, allowing privacy or liberty when needed.

Personally, I used Wix in the past when I was studying in videogame design, before I was enrolled in Beenox’s team, during my first year of study. At first I was instructed to build an online portfolio in order to promote and upload my work in various classes. Through experimentation with its’ functions, I discovered the great possibilities offered by Wix’s unique platform like: embedding downloadable files, creating slideshow automated animations, creating links, etc. It was a great and fascinating tool to work with and I would recommend it for anyone who has a great deal of creativity and not so much patience for programming. The results are great and can be modified along with the creative process, whereas the typical website programmer will have to input all the data in a blunt format then test it and fix bugs before seeing what the product actually looks like. It’s a great tool for visual people.

From an ESL point of view, I would use Wix as a creative tool to have student create slideshows or presentations available online. This would give them the opportunity to understand better how a cloud platform works as well as give them a new perspective of hard data that they usually carry around on a USB key versus this accessible version of their work. They would get their hands on a tool that would stray away from the standard Powerpoints or other frequent tools used for presenting work to class. That would likely heighten their motivation and encourage originality as much as creativity in them. I would obviously use this in high school at the higher levels, say grade ten through twelve. This being due to the very vast possibilities that could become problematic in the hands of dependent students like the younger ones can prove to be. Students would be introduced to many mechanics of the virtual world such as online publication, uploading data, drag and dropping mechanism and creating basic animations.