Brainstorming and mindmapping are excellent practices for idea generation, and completing these activities collaboratively allows students to share their unique insights, develop each other’s ideas, and play to the strengths of the group’s collected experiences. Some of the digital tools currently available for collaborative brainstorming and mindmapping are capable of adding new dimensions to these activities, as well as streamlining the collaborative process in order to get students engaged in the group work seamlessly.

These tools allow students and teachers to share and connect diverse ideas and questions, create and clarify pathways, generate new conversations, and conduct diagnostic or formative assessments in a free-flowing, fun, and productive way. Additionally, many of these tools allow for anonymous contributions, encouraging students to contribute without fear of judgment and exposure. It is also worth demonstrating the benefits of these tools for students who are likely to continue with group work within their professional careers, and will likely be expected to have some familiarity with them.


The particular instrument used for a collaborative brainstorming task in one course was Padlet, an easy to use web-based tool that allows group-specific “walls” (Padlet’s terminology for the user’s work-space) to be created, onto which participants can contribute original and linked content. The lecturer created a Padlet wall with access given to the class, then introduced an activity inspired by Cope and Kalantzis’ 7 e-Affordances in eLearning. Students were asked to think about examples of transformative technology that they have encountered in their experience as teachers and learners, and then post them to the class’ Padlet wall. Because the Padlet wall was accessible only to the specific members of the class, even more reserved students felt comfortable contributing to the discussion and offering feedback to their peers. The lecturer was also given insight into how these discussions evolved, and was able to see where assistance was needed, at which point the lecturer could contribute key ideas and concepts within the Padlet wall itself. The advantage of using Padlet was not only the ease with which it facilitated group collaboration, but that students seamlessly demonstrated how effective it could be to incorporate simple technologies into class-based activities.

Where to Next?

In other courses, lecturers have created image provocations (with tools such as ThingLink) and audio provocations (with tools such as VoiceThread) for students, to which they can create and post their own text, video, and audio responses for the class to see. Many different mindmapping tools can be linked to from, or embedded into, Canvas pages, and added as tools in Google Drive if students wish to continue their collaborative work outside of Canvas.

Tools and Tips

Mindmapping Tools
  • MindMeister is an online mindmapping tool that is mainly subscription-focused (requiring the user to pay a monthly subscription) but with a limited free option. It has a very advanced, yet flexible, interface that supports both images and annotations. The limited free option may be sufficient for many users, but it is worth noting that one of the major limitations of the free account is the number of mindmaps that the user can create (a free account has a limit of 3 mindmaps).
  • MindMup2 is one of the most powerful free mindmapping tools on the web. It has been designed to run using the latest HTML5 web technology. Furthermore, it’s open source (under the MIT license). However, some of the limitations of this tool are that the free mindmaps are limited in size to 100KB and are only stored for a maximum of 6 months.
  • Coggle is another web-based tool for creating mind maps. Users are prompted to sign into Coggle with their Google account, after which they can instantly start designing their map. A potential limitation, depending on the user’s intended application of this tool, is that Coggle does not offer any premade templates to start them off with.
Brainstorming Tools
  • Padlet is a visual collaboration web-based tool. Users add virtual sticky notes to a virtual bulletin board (known as a “wall”). In addition, users can add text, video, images, links and more to their sticky notes. Sticky notes can be moved around the wall, but there are limitations to how these sticky notes can be organised on the wall.
Collaborative media annotation tools
  • Pictogon is an online tool for creating interactive images (i.e. images with “hot-spots” that display additional content). Pictogon is has a relatively simple interface, ensuring that creating such interactive imaes is relatively simple. However, a major limitation of this tool is that there is no facility to allow uploading of images, instead images must be already hosted on the internet somewhere else and linked to. In addition, the free version of this tool has limitations on the number of image maps that the user can create (a free account has a limit of 3 image maps).
  • ThingLink is a free and user friendly digital tool that provides users with the ability to turn any image into an interactive graphic. Thinglink’s hot-spots can include video, record audio or provide a link to any website with the click of a button. Once completed, the interactive ThingLink graphic can be embedded into a Canvas page with relative ease.
  • is an online tool designed for creating “interactive resources” without programming skills. As such, it is set up to have a ‘click and drag’ approach to creating such interactive resources. It is mainly subscription-focused (requiring the user to pay a monthly subscription) but with a limited free option.


Biasutti, M. (2017). A comparative analysis of forums and wikis as tools for online collaborative learning. Computers & Education, 111, 158–171.

Fisher, C. D. (2017). Padlet: An online tool for learner engagement and collaboration. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 16(1), 163–165.

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