Inspire - a Teaching Fellows' newsletter

A quarterly publication on the contemporary issues influencing teaching and learning.


 By Alexandra Pitt, Senior Lecturer, Health and Education

In Higher Education, we are happily engaged in a rich community of different nationalities, languages and backgrounds, but this also leads to potential challenges and I focus here on language.

Attending higher education means an encounter with an overwhelmingly high quantity of new vocabulary.  This can be vocabulary which pertains to the discipline, institutional processes, learning outcomes, theory, and methodology and it is generally encountered through dense academic texts written by academics for academics.  It is hardly surprising then that students struggle, as they must engage in a discourse community with only a fraction of the toolkit possessed by the true intended audience.

For those operating in a second language or struggling with Dyslexia, this can be particularly challenging and if we also consider the sheer quantity and complexity of required reading and writing, this language onslaught appears relentless.   Burn out, underperformance and confidence issues seem inevitable if we do not factor in times of respite and empower students to do the same.
Mindmapping and infographics allow us to sometimes think in shorthand and create whole clusters of related ideas without having to constantly recall long passages, manage new terminology, or drown in a sea of text, even if we may have to engage with those mediums at other times in the process.

MindMaple Offers the ability to input data, connect ideas together, insert images and upload attachments to create mind maps.  Whole clusters of research, details, images and critical points can be arranged in a linguistically economical way.  Through creating diagrams of our thinking, individuals engage more deeply with subject material. Detached from challenging language, students are empowered more as equals, which Molle (2015) believes essential for them to engage more confidently in what Lillis (2001) calls social meaning making.

SketchBoard further offers freehand drawing facilities and has the added benefit of creating public boards for visual peer dialogue.  This diversifies for different learners that social aspect of confidently finding a voice within the community.

Piktochart by contrast, enables the production of professional and engaging infographic sheets and is potentially more suited to diversifying our communication with students, or as an alternative genre of student output.

There are many such tools, which offer different functions and user-friendliness, but engaging with visualisation tools is fundamental for inclusivity, not only for individual learning and thinking processes, but also for empowering students’ voices within expert discourse communities.


Lillis, T. M. (2001). Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routeledge.
Molle, D. (2015) Academic Language and Academic Literacies: Mapping a Relationship, in Molle, D., Sato, E. Boals, T, Hedgspeth, C. A. (Eds). Multilingual Learners and Academic Literacies: Sociocultural Context of Literacy Development in Adolescents. Kindle Edition. London: Routeledge