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Using Mind-Maps to Make Modular Arguments, MASS EFFECT Style

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Nova Mind Map with Many Arms
Image Credit: 

Chris Ortiz y Prentice

Brief Assignment Overview: 

This lesson is best used in conjunction with “Using Mass Effect 1 to teach critical situations," which can be found under that title on this site. One of the primary purposes of the Mass Effect lesson is to get students to think about how persuasive essays are “modular:” decisions a rhetor makes early on in an argument afford other rhetorical options later but at the same time take some options out of play. This lesson plan uses NovaMind Pro to help students create modular arguments of their own.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

To develop in students an understanding of persuasive speech and writing as rhetorical decision making.

Required Materials: 

NovaMind Pro. (Note that Mac and PC versions of this software differ significantly. The concurrence seems to be that the Mac version is more user-friendly.)

Other mind-mapping technologies should work as well.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

In preparation for the class, students read three persuasive essays. The student’s task is to read each essay and break it down into its rhetorical steps: i.e. the author starts by doing x, then she makes y claim, then she makes z claim, and concludes with w. The class begins with discussion of the steps, until we’re all settled on how each argument proceeds. Then the instructor brings up a NovaMind map that visualizes each argument as its own “arm.” While it would be possible to have students make their own maps of the arguments, I recommend completing this preparation work for the students, to save time. You may ask students to make changes to the map depending on what came out of our discussion of the articles. You should also devote a little time to familiarizing the students with the software.

The instructor asks the students to get into small groups and then collaborate to combine the three arms of the map. They should do so by, 1) finding nodes in each arm that are similar, 2) taking the arm that follows from such a node and attaching it to the similar node on another arm. These steps are intended to be performed recursively, and while it is not necessary to end up with one big argument, arms should lead off of arms that lead of off other arms. (See instructor preparation below on how to facilitate the rather complex cognitive work this lesson requires.)

I ask students to think about what they come up with as a sort of “potential” argument. It could be navigated, from beginning to end, in a linear fashion. I ask students to traverse the map, making decisions at “crossroads” nodes that put you on a new track, which in turn brings further options “down the line.” Depending on decisions you make, the persuasive purpose of the argument may change.

In my class, students present a mind-mapped modular version of their persuasive essays as their final presentation. Instead of giving a persuasive speech, they tell us what options were available for them as they wrote their final essay, and why they chose to go one way as opposed to another.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

This is a heavy preparation lesson because the instructor must first make a map that contains lots of possible connection points. When students pull up the main map, they can click over to the connection points map, which I color code to emphasize possible connections. I do this because NovaMind can be a bit cumbersome to work with, and I want my students thinking about rhetorical decisions rather than how to untangle one arm from another (a common occurrence, once maps get bigger. I recommend using the auto-arrange feature liberally: “Command =” in the Mac version.)

Instructions For Students: 

Instructions for reading homework:

  1. Read the following each of the following articles.
  2. After reading each, make a bullet-point list that enumerates each “step” in the article:

How does the author start? What does the author claim next? What’s the following move, etc.? How does the article conclude?

    3.  Bring your list with you to class. You’ll use it to construct a mind map in class.

Instructions for in-class NovaMind exercise:

  1. Use the possible connections point map to find nodes that are similar on two different arms. Notice that arms are color-coded to emphasize similarity, but do not feel constrained to connect where suggested only. I recommend that you start by filling out one of the original argument arms, and then developing other arms if you have time.
  2. Connect arms from similar nodes, wherever possible. Select the node from the connection points map from which the arm you want to connect begins. Push Command/Control C. Then select the node on the modular argument map, from which you want to attach the copied arm. Push Command/Control V.
  3. If the arms get tangled, push Command/Control = sign. Remember that you can always push undo if something undesired occurs. Be patient and deliberate.
  4. Follow argument paths and eliminate redundancies while preserving the greatest possible number of options.
Evaluation Suggestions: 

I use this assignment to prepare my students for their final presentations. I encouraged experimentation and thus wanted to create a low-stakes environment; so I didn't grade the in-class exercise.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

My students seemed to really enjoy making larger argument structures, but I found one class doesn't provide enough time to get to the second part of the assignment, in which you step back and consider how you might traverse the map from start to finish. I'd recommend you use two classes for this lesson, and I'd also recommend you provide the starting materials for the students. The materials I provide below could be improved upon: as one of my students pointed out, the exercise works best if you break the articles down into the rhetorical decisions that went behind the progression of each argument. In the materials below, I do the much easier task of listing the steps in each argument. There's a fine but real distinction there

Additional Resources: 

Course Description: 

RHE306, a course in argumentation that situates rhetoric as an art of civic discourse. It is designed to enhance students’ ability to analyze the various positions held in any public debate and to advocate their own position effectively. Students’ work in this course will help them advance the critical writing and reading skills they will need to succeed in courses for their major and university degree.

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