Mapping the Gap with Concept Maps
The use of concept mapping, also referred to as cognitive mapping, spans across many disciplines and settings including educational research, clinical psychology, classroom teaching, and field research. Concept maps are reported to
- Deepen the creator’s knowledge of the domain,
- Represent the creator’s domain-specific knowledge at the moment of the maps creation,
- Provide robust data (i.e. statistically significant) as a research method when pre-post measures are collected and compared,
- Be most valid and reliable when the creator has received training on how to create a concept map (seeing examples of maps is most helpful), and
- Provide map creators greater agility in exhibiting their understanding of the concept and its relationships with other nodes of information.
According to the findings of Boxtel, Linden, Roelfs, and Erkens (2002), creating concept maps as a classroom-based collaborative exercise among 15-16 year old science students contributes significantly to learning because of several reasons including providing students the opportunity to talk about the phenomena via the picture (aka the concept map). Furthermore, according to the authors, concept maps when created collaboratively, offer students the opportunity to practice skills such as negotiation and reflection. Jointly creating a concept map means students engage in questioning, reasoning, and resolving disagreements. The authors state, “When peers work on a common task, mutual understandings must be created and sustained” (p. 42). Mutual understanding means shared meaning achieved through reflecting on both individual knowledge but also integrating and building upon the knowledge expressed through the contributions of their co-creators.
Another major benefit of using concept maps in the classroom is the ability for students (and teachers) to compare students’ conceptions of new information prior to instruction to those after instruction. The pre-post cognitive dissonance as manifest on the concept maps by knowledge gaps and inconsistent reasoning affords opportunities for instructional strategies or other types of interventions which assist students directly to clarifying misconceptions.
Points to Ponder
- How could concept mapping serve as both a teaching-learning activity and a formative and/or summative assessment tool?
- How could exploring content in a graphic, non text-dominant ways provide insights into overall student development?
- How could using a creative activity like concept mapping enliven (or alternatively hinder) domain-specific learning?
Asking students to demonstrate what they know can take many forms along many broad continuum e.g., freedom-restraint, creativity-reproduction, fun-lame, etc. You may consider concept maps an “old school” activity, one you employed back-in-the-day. Or perhaps you’ve never used concept mapping as an activity to extend learning (domain-based, social, and otherwise), nor as an assessment tool. Regardless of your prior experience, concept mapping is worth (re)exploring in depth. Go forth and Map the Gap!
For my additional reviews of empirical studies examining concept maps see this annotated bibliography on Concept Mapping.