Concept map

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A concept map or conceptual diagram depicts relationships between concepts. It is a graphical tool used to organize and structure knowledge. Concept mapping was developed in the 1970s by Joseph D. Novak and his team to represent students' emerging science knowledge. It has subsequently been utilized to improve education and to represent expert knowledge. Concept maps have their origin in constructivism, which professes that learners actively construct knowledge.


  • Though concept maps can take many forms, they commonly include both ‘nodes’ (concepts) and ‘arcs’ (linking lines denoting relationships)... Concept maps are great for exploring what knowledge students are bringing to your class. ...[T]ry asking your students to create concept maps on one or more... topics. Then review these for patterns in how the students are depicting the topics (are they missing key connections to other ideas? Are they drawing erroneous relationships?), and make changes to your lesson plans accordingly.
  • It is in these shimmering and incessant embraces that the infinite patterns, the infinite Maps of the Mind, are created, nurtured and grown. Radiant Thinking reflects your internal structure and processes. The Mind Map (Concept Map) is your external mirror of your own radiant thinking and allows you to access this vast thinking powerhouse.
    • Tony and Barry Buzan, The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential (1996) p. 31.
  • Concept maps have long provided visual languages widely used in many different disciplines and application domains. Abstractly, they are sorted graphs visually represented as nodes having a type, name and content, some of which are linked by arcs. Concretely, they are structured diagrams having discipline- and domain-specific interpretations for their user communities, and, sometimes, formally defining computer data structures. Concept maps have been used for a wide range of purposes and it would be useful to make such usage available over the World Wide Web.
  • The importance of concept maps in expert learning has... been explained. Mappings of processes such as the design process are... related to the acquisition of procedural knowledge. ...[C]oncept maps may come in all shapes and sizes... Hyerle... distinguished between eight types of thinking map. A circle map helps define words or things in context and presents points of view. Bubble maps describe emotional, sensory and logical qualities. For example, at their center in a circle might be a heroic person, and from the center other circles describe the characteristics of the hero. Tree maps show relationships between main ideas and supporting details. Block schematic diagrams are examples of flow diagrams... Engineers often use such maps to show causes and effects as well as to predict outcomes. Maps may also be used to form analogies or metaphors and these are often used to try and explain fuzzy concepts. ...Danserau and Newbern... called bubble maps 'node' maps. The nodes contain the central ideas. The links... show relationships between the nodes. ...They argued that concept maps should provide easy illustrations of complex relationships, less work clutter, be easy to remember, and easy to navigate. ...McAleese and Cowan warned that concept maps are only useful to the learner, if they are constructed by the learner. It is a view that is beginning to be taken up by the engineering community... [S]tudent constructed maps become the navigational tool that allows them to explore relevant content and expand their maps...
    • John Heywood, Engineering Education: Research and Development in Curriculum and Instruction (2005) pp. 103-104. Note reference to D. F. Dansereau & D. Newbern, "Using knowledge maps to enhance excellence" 1997.
  • The focus of this investigation is on the use of thinking maps as tools for students and teachers in classrooms from kindergarten through graduation. Thinking maps are eight fundamental thinking processes represented and activated by semantic maps [Circle, Bubble, Double Bubble, Tree, Brace, Flow, Multi-Flow and Bridge]... This distinct set of visual tools is used for inter-actively connecting, sharing and reflecting on information for personal, interpersonal, and social understandings. ...[S]tudents who are taught how to use this set of tools will be helped in becoming independent and interdependent learners. [T]hey... [will] have a common visual language in the classroom for connecting and seeing what they are thinking, for deepening dialogue, and for assessing how they are thinking and learning. ...This investigation of thinking maps as student-centered tools is... a practical response to a continuing educational problem... defining the relationship between teachers and students... Since the advent of public school education this relationship has been securely entrenched in teacher lecture and the rote repetition of lessons by students. ...[T]he teacher-talk and student-listen relationship that had been criticized by progressive educators for generations has finally become recognized to be at the heart of our educational problem.
  • David Nelson Hyerle, "Thinking Maps as Tools for Multiple Modes of Understanding" (1993) PhD Thesis, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Thinking Maps... are no different from other languages that have been developed within or across cultures: Languages are inherently made by humans and thus are arbitrary and incomplete, and have grey areas and ambiguous "rules" that sometimes govern strange usage. But we have never had... a language of cognition... a language for generating patterns of thinking based on human cognitive structures. Certainly, our spoken and written and mathematical languages are all based on being able to represent out thinking, ideas, and concepts but not for explicitly representing thinking as patterns. ...The thinking patterns are embedded in the linearity of text, and you need to work a bit to dig them out. ...When we Google directions to a place ...we get both the linear, line-by-line directions and a visual map showing the network of ...roads ...offering a multitude of options. Thinking Maps offer mental maps of how we are thinking and new routes for understanding.
    • David N. Hyerle, "Thinking Maps as a Transformational Language for Learning", Student Successes With Thinking Maps (2011) with Larry Alper, p. 2.
  • [I]n addition to showing what knowledge a student holds, concept maps also illustrate how that knowledge is arranged in the student’s mind.
    • Ian M. Kinchin, David B. Hay, and Alan Adams. "How a Qualitative Approach to Concept Map Analysis Can Be Used to Aid Learning by Illustrating Patterns of Conceptual Development" (2000) Educational Research 42, No. 1, pp. 43–57.
  • An important issue is the virtual nature of the concept map. ...[T]he “map” can exist in n-dimensional space. ...[There are] two “laws” of concept maps. [C]oncept models are: "L1: represented using the least number of concept labels and relationships - for the current understanding". This leads to a second law: "L2: each and every concept label signifies an indeterminate number of other related concept labels". Concept maps have to be seen in virtual space – not planar or Cartesian space. The relationships between nodes can be thought of as "deep" as opposed to "surface" linkages. The relationship of concepts - one to another - can be understood in terms of structural knowledge. ...Dave Jonassen has made a plausible case that concept maps provide a measure of structural knowledge. Such... "knowledge of the interrelationships of ideas with a knowledge domain”... suggests that there may be an isomorphic relationship between what is known by the learner and... the external representation - the map. Jonassen, et al (1998) seem to say that the map is a dynamic construction that comes about as a result of the experience of mapping. ..."mindtools represent a constructivist use of technology... the process of how we construct knowledge"... [I]n another paper [he] claims "...concept maps ...are the spatial representations of concepts and their interrelationships that are intended to represent the knowledge structures that humans store in their minds..." (Jonassen et al 1993...) This is the "representational" view.
    • Ray McAleese "Coming To Know: The Role of the Concept Map Mirror, Assistant, Master?" ERIC Clearinghouse, 1998.
  • Because meaningful learning proceeds most easily when new concepts or concept meanings are subsumed under broader, more inclusive concepts, concept maps should be hierarchical; that is, the more general, more inclusive concepts should be at the top of the map, with progressively more specific, less inclusive concepts arranged below them. ...[I]t is sometimes helpful to include at the base of the concept map specific objects or events to illustrate the origins of the concept meaning ...
  • Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. ...Propositions contain two or more concepts connected using linking words or phrases to form a meaningful statement. Sometimes these are called semantic units, or units of meaning. ...[C]oncepts are represented in a hierarchical fashion with the most inclusive, most general concepts at the top of the map and the more specific, less general concepts arranged hierarchically below. ...[I]t is best to construct concept maps with reference to some particular... focus question. ...Cross-links help us see how a concept in one domain... on the map is related to a concept in another domain... on the map. In the creation of new knowledge, cross-links often represent creative leaps [by] the knowledge producer. ...[S]pecific examples of events or objects... help to clarify the meaning of a given concept. ...Concept maps were developed in 1972 in the course of Novak’s research program... to follow and understand changes in children’s knowledge of science... [T]he researchers... found it difficult to identify specific changes in the children’s understanding... by examination of interview transcripts. ...Out of the necessity to find a better way to represent children’s conceptual understanding emerged the idea of representing children’s knowledge in the form of a concept map.
  • The purpose of this article is to provide a review of the research on a... form of knowledge representation, the knowledge map, and to point to areas of future research... and to some... practical implications... Other forms of graphical representation such as concept mapping... have been widely used in science education research... Knowledge maps are node-link representations in which ideas are located in nodes and connected to other related ideas through a series of labeled links. They differ from other similar representations such as mind maps, concept maps, and graphic organizers in the deliberate use of a common set of labeled links that connect ideas. Some links are domain specific (e.g., function is very useful for some topic domains...) whereas other links (e.g., part) are more broadly used. Links have arrowheads to indicate the direction of the relationship between ideas.
    • Angela M. O’Donnell, Donald F. Dansereau, Richard H. Hall, "Knowledge Maps as Scaffolds for Cognitive Processing" Educational Psychology Review (March 2002) Vol. 14, No. 1.
  • Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. Student[s] are given either a list of terms or overall topics, and are told to link them based on their assessment of importance and relation. Based on the work of J. Turns, the concept map is an assessment tool based on nodes and arcs. Nodes are the individual words or phrases that the student is associating. Arcs connect the nodes with one another, typically in an outward fashion, in which there are more nodes the further one gets from the center node. The most important and/or central part of the concept map is placed in the center node. Connected outwards from the center node are the terms that the student deems to be a subset or close relation of the center term. ...[W]e took a series of steps that simplified the complex and diverse concept maps that were created by the students. The first method was to encode the data into an Excel file in order to count the occurrences of each word as a set towards creating a single concept map that embodied the perspectives of the class. We weighted a word based on a point system that rewarded terms that were closer to the center of the concept map.
  • [D]o students correctly learn their discipline and properly frame it cognitively so that they use it in practice? Concept maps and concept inventories can examine this from macro and micro perspectives. Concept mapping is an established tool... designed to measure conceptual organization, or how students organized the knowledge they have learned (or not learned). These maps are... graphical organizers for thoughts, theories, and/or concepts in a particular discipline... Understanding is schematically represented by creating a hierarchy of ideas of concepts linked together through branches of subconcepts, with interrelationships indicated by additional branches or cross-links... [T]he difficulty in using them for assessment has been in their scoring. ...Maps usually are scored by counting concepts, links, and hierarchies. Recently more sophisticated approaches have appeared that better facilitate their use as an outcome assessment tool. ...Concept inventories for various engineering subject areas have been developed to measure... conceptual understanding... of such fundamental, small-scale phenomena as heat, light, diffusion, chemical reactions, and electricity...
    • Joni E. Spurlin, Sarah A. Rajala, Jerome P. Lavelle, Designing Better Engineering Education Through Assessment (2008) p. 318.
  • Concept maps can be classified into three types: object maps, verbal maps, and spatial maps corresponding to three distinct styles of learning and communication. According to neuropsychologists Olysa Blazhenkova and Maria Kozhevnikov, object learners and communicators are found among artists and multi-media persons who process information through colorful, concrete, multi-dimensional, and multi-sensory images. The verbal style of communicating and processing of information, according to the media scholar, Marshall McLuhan, has dominated Western learning for centuries... This cognitive style is opposed to the object style and a third type, spatial style in that spatial learners, as in the case of object learners, process information non-verbally, and through images.
    • Michael Tang, Arunprakash T. Karunanithi, Advanced Concept Maps in STEM Education (2017) Preface, pp. vi-vii.

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