Integrating Technology and Teaching

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Concept Mapping, Module #4

Concept Mapping is a conceptual approach to communicating ideas that are related on some level. Strictly speaking, concepts, pieces of information, or small sets of words that briefly encapsulate some aspect or part of an idea that could stand alone, are represented by symbols or graphics, and then linked to other symbolic ideas in a web, or meaningful arrangement. The structure is as much a part of the “map” as are the icons or text, and the linkages themselves can be used to convey meaning. At its basic level, the idea is predicated on cognitive learning principles. New knowledge is more easily learned when it is put into a context that the learner is already familiar with, or recognizes components of. Thus the material gains significance, and is recognized within that context. Manipulating ideas and putting them actively into some form of organization that the student constructs and recognizes, reinforces tentative bonds and strengthens understanding.

The concept-mapping tool most in use at present in the educational realm is Inspiration or its elementary version Kidspiration. Teachers can use the tool to assess a student’s grasp of the relations between ideas pulled from a reading assignment, or a test, or a summarization of a lab, or other assignment the student is faced with. It can also be used to “kick-start” the creative juices for a writing task, or a communications objective, tailored for the specific audience. The tool helps the writer focus on the key aspects of the topic, and can be switched from the graphic to outline form to help fill in the blanks for a complete written essay.

If the linkages are incorrectly or inappropriately constructed the teacher can evaluate the depth of understanding quickly. The necessary corrections can be accomplished quickly to not only evaluate a student’s progress periodically, but to move ahead the process of learning.

Visually representing some bundle of information is not new. I think the approach has been used in many ways. An historical example is Egyptian hieroglyphics. Pictures are placed in some sequence or proximity to other pictures to tell a story. The choice of the situation of any particular picture relative to another is a visual form of pragmatics, one of the cueing systems of language arts.

Concept mapping appeals to students grappling with higher order reasoning skills insofar as it is a form of meta cognitive processing that students may be encouraged to develop earlier in their lives than the higher form synthesis and analysis using words alone to convey their ideas. Pictures and graphics that can be used in the context of computers may also tap into an existing bias today’s video gamers have for exciting simulations and computer graphics. There are many more opportunities to be creative.

The onus is on the teacher however to develop an evaluation technique that isn’t too time consuming, as potentially great demand could be put on a teacher’s time, a scarce resource to start with. As the student comes more proficient, they may use the technique for studying volumes of material, analysing a piece of literature, or other body of material.

As with all creative endeavors, a lot of time could be spent on getting started with the tool, so a helpful teacher might “scaffold” the student by doing a step-by-step walk through of the tutorial.

I would use the Inspiration software to have students analyze and construct meaningful representations of different concepts in Micro and Macro Economics. Specifically, students would use Inspiration software to create graphic representations of the different types of market systems, and the characteristics of each. As well we could construct a concept map of the flow of money through the various components of the banking system, and the government. Examples are given in various places, but constructing the concept map from a list of components would solidify and demonstrate competence to the teacher. Finally it would provide a study guide to the student. The tool could be used repeatedlt through the course on a number of different concepts.

In general the approach has many applications, and its appeal as a way of simplifying and visually representing complex multi-dimensional systems is proven. I have downloaded the trial version and look forward to using it in my Micro teach for my teaching seminar.

C7.2.2 Students will use selected presentation tools to demonstrate connections between various pieces of information
C4.1.2 Students will formulate new questions as research progresses.
P2.4.1, 2, 3. Students will Manipulate and present data through selection of appropriate tools, apply principles of graphic design to enhance meaning and audience appeal, use integrated software effectively and efficiently to reproduce work that incorporates data, graphics, and text.

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