Best tools and practices for concept mapping
Last summer my interest in concept mapping was renewed when I read How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose et al.. At several points in the book they encourage higher educators to use concept maps. It has taken me a while to follow up but, with a little help from the POD List, here we go.
Concept map or mind map?
Concept mapping and mind mapping are graphic organizers, strategies for visualizing knowledge or graphically representing ideas. The terms may seem to be interchangeable, but here are some typical differences in the way they are used:
- A mind map is a creative way to represent an idea or task, while a concept map is a formal attempt to organize or represent knowledge.
- Mind maps focus on a central idea; concept maps connect multiple ideas.
- Mind maps are colorful, use wavy lines, and often include pictures. Concept maps are made with geometric shapes and straight lines.
- A mind map builds outward from the center, while concept map expands downward from the top.
|Concept Map||Mind Map|
“Mind Map” is a registered trademark, so it may be less problematic to use “concept map” for everything. Don’t worry either way; the vocabulary police won’t be out there looking for you.
Uses of concept maps
This teaching-learning strategy is grounded in constructivist theory, which states that we create meaning from the interaction between our experiences and our ideas. Here are several strategies gleaned from the literature:
- Assess prior knowledge – students create a visual representation of what they know about a concept
- Show how experts organize knowledge – build a map that tells students how you think – this could also help in your own course design work
- Summarize reading – represent ideas in an article, the main points of a chapter, or the theme of a novel
- Plan a task – student groups visualize a project or lab assignment in order to get a handle on what is involved
- Conduct an assessment – at the end of a unit or course, students create a map to show what they have learned
In the video below, Karen Rohrbauck Stout at Western Washington University explains how she uses concept mapping as an assessment technique.
Practices to consider
- Construct maps with reference to a “focus question” that clearly specifies the problem or issue
- Start with a partially constructed map
- Provide a short list of key terms – or have students start by creating such a list
- Create several maps over time, allowing students to see how their understanding changes
- Students can work in groups – or start with individual maps and then form into groups
- Develop maps on a large whiteboard to allow for easy revisions
- Use software that allows multiple users to work on a map at the same time
The two most popular tools reported by POD users were
- CmapTools – a free tool provided by Florida IHMC
- Inspiration - commercial software that has been popular for over twenty years
Three special tools you might consider are
- VUE – an open source tool provided by Tufts – I’m surprised more people aren’t using this
- Prezi – a tool that provides a “canvas” for developing presentations
- iMindMap – a commercial product by Tony Buzan, who owns the Mind Map trademark
I ran across a number of good resources for concept mapping as I researched this article over the past two weeks.
- Concept Maps: Learning Made Visible (U of Iowa)
- How do I use Concept Maps? (Florida State, US Navy)
- The Use of Concept Maps in the Teaching-Learning Process (CDC)
- Concept Maps (Western Washington)
- Rubric for Graphic Organizers (UW Stout)
- Concept Map Software (Waterloo)
- Top 10 Mind Maps (Paul Foreman)
- Mindmapping Software Programs (ProfHacker)
- The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them (Novak and Cañas)
- Concept Mapping: Mirroring processes of thinking and learning – a short overview
- Creating Concept Maps: Integrating Constructivism Principles into Online Classes (Brent Muirhead)
- Using concept maps in the science classroom (Vanides, et al., Stanford)
I’d like to thank the following folks who responded to my request on the POD list: Ed Nuhfer, James Greenberg, Aisha Jackson, Alice Cassidy, and Ken Plummer.