As a former English teacher, I’ve always been a big fan of the visual thinking software Inspiration. What a forward-looking application, just about the only one from the early nineties (with the possible exception of Geometer’s Sketchpad) that was open-ended, constructivist, multi-disciplinary, fun. When everyone else was doing “drill and kill,” these guys recognized that computers could be a platform to support and scaffold thinking, writing, and collaboration. Even now, 15 years later, I still sing Inspiration’s praises to English teachers, although in this age of the web, those songs had begun to sound a little tinny over the last few years. New web-based apps like Google Docs, PBwiki, and Mindomo had a little more sheen and could support all kinds of collaboration among students and teachers.
Well, yesterday I learned that the online version of Inspiration, mywebspiration.com, is in beta and I’ve been playing with it on and off all day. So far, I’m impressed by its responsiveness and its almost slavish adherence to the UI from the Windows/Mac version. And they’ve added a slew of collaboration features, including versioning. One of the problems with Inspiration has always been that kids can’t continue working on it at home. No more, if MyWebspiration becomes a reality.
On the downside, it looks like a number of features from the Windows/Mac versions have been left out– at least in this phase in the beta. Most notably, I couldn’t find any way to export my diagrams as image files or my outlines as RTF documents. This is a huge omission, as I always argue that the ability to brainstorm in Inspiration and then quickly shoot it all into Word and start writing is one of the software’s main benefits. Also, I didn’t see any “arrange” buttons to clean up my diagrams and it is way more difficult than it needs to be to paste text into a diagram. But hopefully they will work these wrinkles out. I know I’ll certainly be watching as this product develops in the coming months and I hope they’ll offer a reasonable upgrade price for current customers.