Debategraph: supporting critical thinking, visually

Debategraph is a collaborative visualization tool that  allows learners to develop, share, and critically examine ideas.

The mission of the Debategraph team:

Our goal is to create a new kind of public service that enables local and global communities of people to think together by collaboratively building and editing comprehensive and succinct maps of complex debates that accurately present all sides of the debate from a neutral standpoint, free of repetitive clutter and ‘noise’….

….The maps are multi-dimensional to reflect the nuances of real debate rather than being limited to one-dimensional for and against arguments—and can be clustered into overlapping debates.

The goal of a Debategraph project isn’t necessarily for groups of people to reach a consensus but to create understanding and critical thinking about the nuances of a problem.

The technology (or what are my powers)

When you register to use Debategraph, you’re able to create, edit, comment on, and rate debatemaps. The look of a Debategraph map is similar to many of the mindmaps you’ve seen, but the feel is quite different. Maps are loaded with functionality as demonstrated in this short video.

Because Debategraph is so feature-rich, I recommend taking time to hover over and click on things to see what they do. However, the site includes a great deal of built-in visual guidance and prompts, so don’t be intimidated.

Your first view will be an “Explore” view of a map designed to provide guidance on using Debategraph.

When you link to “Map home”  you retain your view of the help map, but now you also have access to tools that will allow you to create a new map or to find and modify an existing map (representing a public, ongoing debate). Clicking on different map nodes or “buttons” allows you to access information associated with those buttons using the Details tab. The Help tab always remains easily accessible.

To start a new map, click on the “New Map” option at the bottom of the map.

The default is to create a public map, but you can make a map private, as I did here to get used to the system.

What’s particularly cool about Debategraph is that you can add text, visuals, video, and hyperlinked content to illustrate your ideas.

Adding buttons is easy. You just click on the add button and add a title with or without additional content. (You can always go back later and flesh out your thoughts).

By exploring different views and tabs, you can explore the top-level structure of a debate/issue or focus on specific strands of a map, while still retaining a view of the big picture.

An important value-add of Debategraph is, of course, the ability to create a community of interest focused on a topic. You can use the community tab to control the size of the community, inviting participants by email or making the map viewable to the public. You also can embed a map into your Web site or blog and follow changes and new comments via RSS.

You also can view the Community stream alongside your map, as shown in the illustration below.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the options you have with Debategraph, so I encourage you to explore this tool.

Instructional strategies

Debategraph is a valuable tool for allowing learners to reflect on a problem statement/debate topic and to hone their critical thinking skills. As much as I like Twitter and see a place for it, this tool is the anti-Twitter, and seeks to remedy the problems associated with providing short broadcasts of information. There’s a separate menu option for providing a “Cite,”thus, there’s value placed on supporting statements with evidence. Because you can link to multimedia content, you can lessen the chances of misunderstanding and provide richer perspectives.  For any button that’s added, a collaborator can add comments and additional buttons that can frame the issue in a different way. Unlike a traditional debate, the goal here isn’t to “win,” it’s to create understanding.

Additionally, learners also can take part in the public debates that are ongoing to obtain the benefit of a larger, global view of important issues and can participate in shaping this view.

Here’s a view of some featured maps on Debategraph.

A YouTube video of the CNN Debategraph is below.

Uses outside of debates

Debategraph has many uses outside of debating. You can use it as a brainstorming tool, rapidly creating many buttons in the divergent thinking phase and then going back to flesh out these buttons with more information in a convergent thinking phase. There’s a way for users to assign a value to ideas (useful for the convergent thinking phase), to prioritize avenues for further exploration. There are even menu prompts that encourage you to identify a button as a “Decision.”

You can also use it as your own personal mindmapping tool, as I did here to test the system. Just as in a brainstorming exercise, you can quickly create buttons and define relationships between them. You can add multimedia at the time you create the button or later on, associating individual buttons with useful content to create a media-rich roadmap for some project you might want to undertake.

There is a small learning curve associated with Debategraph, so you might want to have a face-to-face session or teleconference with your learners to get people up to speed. However, as noted, there are many visual prompts and help information embedded in the site.

Debategraph is a great example of thoughtful tool design intersecting with an important need.

Finally, since I did create a Debategraph on informal learning, here are some additional resources on Informal Learning., including a link to the excellent YouTube video by Jay Cross describing informal learning in 10 minutes.

One response to “Debategraph: supporting critical thinking, visually

  1. Pingback: Web Tool to MindMap a Debate and Visualize Critical Thinking Skills | Educational Technologies Center

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