The intersection of technology, research, financial aid and student access in higher education

Scapple - Great for Group Brainstorming

Added on by Scott Cline.

Recently, I have been using the Scapple (still in beta) application from the same company that makes Scrivener. Even though the software is still in beta, it is becoming an important piece when I want to do brainstorming, but do not want to be tied down to either ordered lists (outlining) or thoughts around a central idea (mindmapping). Recently, I combined Scapple, a MacBook Air, an 40 inch LCD TV, and an AppleTV to make possible some fast and great brainstorming sessions.

We had an all day staff retreat to think strategically about the next financial aid cycle and hosted it out of the office at my house. As part of the retrat, we had an hour of brainstorming, broken up into 15 minute sectinos with 5 minute breaks in-between to reset and change the note taker. Here was the setup:

  • Scapple running in full screen mood on a 13-inch MacBook Air
  • 40 Inch Sony TV
  • Connected AppleTV to the TV
  • MacBook Air Mirroring its display to the AppleTV

The results. The note taker for each 15 minute brainstorming session could double-click anywhere in the Scapple app and start typing notes. Since it was brainstorming sessions, an idea that followed another idea might have a connection to the previous one or no connection at all. Scapple allows for both. Also, Scapple does not have boundries, so the note taker does not need to worry about running out of space or going to the next page. Simply double-click in spot and the page keeps expanding.

At the same time, everyone in the brainstorming group could see the ideas as they were typed up on the MBA on the TV screen–no one had to worry about reading someone’s handwritting and since people can type much faster then write, the lag between ideas and being on the screen was greatly reduced.

After the brainstorming sessions were completed, our team went back to discussed the ideas, organized and grouped ideas, and finally selected certain groups and ideas to develop in teams. Since we were using Scapple, people could take turns moving ideas around, grouping, adding additional thoughts and ideas.

Finally, the export options are great.[1] I could print a PDF of the full Scrapple “page” of notes, and in a few seconds, load it on an iPad for one of the teams to use as reference. The other team could have done the same on another iPad or another computer, but instead just kept the Scapple document open on the TV screen.

The postives over traditional flip charts include the note taker can much more easly keep up with the stream of thoughts the group is producing. This allows the group to brainstorm at full speed and not have to worry about ideas and thoughts not being captured. The application also allows for the ideas to later be easily organized and deciminated. Using the AppleTV and screen minoring on the MBA allow for everyone in the group to see the ideas as they are captured and since it is all wireless the note taker can be quickly switched without worrying about cables and setup.

The postives over just doing the same setup but with something like Word (or a mindmapping/outliner) is the application allows the free-flow of ideas to be put on the canvas at the speed a larger group usually brainstorms at. Additionally, it can be rearranged and organized much easier later then is often the case with a mindmapping or outlining application.[2]

The downsides to this setup is the amount of tech required. The application, which while in beta (and as such, treat it like a beta and save often) is free. But having a computer (that allowsing mirroing), an LCD TV that is large enough for a group to see comfortably and an AppleTV is not always possible. Paper and markers will also always be more readily available and cheaper then this setup, but this worked really, really well. I plan to use it again in the future.

You can download the beta here.

  1. Scapple can also export OPML formates to make it fast to import it into outlining or mindmapping applications.  ↩

  2. I do not mean to write that it cannot be done with some of the great mindmapping and outlining applications on both OS X and iOS, I have just found so far that Scapple is able to do this faster and with less barriers.  ↩