A concept map is a visuospatial representation of knowledge with text and graphical elements such as arrows, lines, ovals, and squares. It consists of nodes, containing a concept or item, and links connecting two nodes to each other and describing their relationship, where each node-link relation makes a proposition (Lee 2012).
Other forms of representing visual information in this way can include Knowledge maps, Topic maps, Mind maps. Each of these terms are form of a concept map. A Topic map is an ISO standard for describing knowledge structures and associating them with their resources (Lee 2012). Concept maps tend to focus on a central term with associated terms radiating outward and connected to the central theme by lines and arrows. Second and third order concepts can then be connected to these nodes to show relationships to individual parts in the context of the whole in a single visual representation.
How Are Concept Maps Used in Education?
Concept maps offer a visual bridge between prior knowledge and new knowledge that is tied together in a meaningful way by descriptors. This allows the learner to manage his working memory while he incorporates new concepts into his long term memory (Novak 2008). Since concept maps engage learner memory in this manner, teachers can use concept maps in a variety of ways. Teachers can use concept mapping as an informal check to see if student are constructing the proper mental models in their learning. This can also be used as an assessment method in a more formal setting. Students can build their own concept map for a new topic in their own way, thus constructing their own mental road map as they go.
Joseph Novak, professor at Cornell University, first popularized the idea of cognitive maps. Novak was influenced by Ausebel and Piaget’s theories of assimilation as well as cognitive processing theories of psychology and education. Novak believed concept maps allowed learners to more easily facilitate assimilation of prior knowledge into new schemas of concepts. Moreover, according to Novak, facilitate learner’s identification of connections and similarities between concepts that initially seem unrelated.
Novak was influenced by G. Miller’s Information Processing Theory, which was instrumental in the development of the field of cognitive psychology, is the concept of “chunking.” Processing information into meaningful “chunks” of information is a prerequisite to human beings being able to identify relationships between these pieces of information and to store information into longer-term memory sets.
Related to the idea of cognitive processing theory is the concept of “cognitive load” proposed by Sweller, in which, similarly describes the need for information to be presented in efficient ways in order to avoid overload of working memory. Moreover, Paivio's "dual coding" theory also seems to support the use of concept maps which utilize both spatial and verbal channels of information processing. Indeed the ability for software applications such as Inspiration to shift back and forth between spatial inputs of diagrams and textual outlines represents an advancement in this type of technology’s ability to allow access to a variety of learning styles and preferences including preference towards more visual or textual modes of learning.
Concept maps also can support the concept of "metacognition" in its ability to assist students in the planning and self-monitoring process; for example, within the use of concept maps in the process of planning an essay or analyzing the parts of a particular system.
- Analysis of possibility, probability and/or risk
- Other analyses
- Brainstorming ideas
Pedagogical Approaches Using Concept Maps
Within direct instruction, concept maps are useful in terms of explaining:
- Component analysis
- Relationships / hierarchy
Concept maps are useful in providing alternatives to more traditional forms of testing/assessment:
- Close (fill-in-the-gap) exercises within practice exercises and tests.
- Visual / non-verbal responses within written assessments.
- non-verbal input to support learner’s ability to demonstrate / exemplify learning through her or his ability to produce both verbal and non-verbal outputs as emphasized by Paivio, in his dual coding theory.
- Demonstration of learning abilities/preferences within performances beyond only traditional paper-and-pencil assessments as suggested by Gardner’s theory of “multiple intelligences” as well at the Universal Design in Learning (UDL) approach.
Meta-cognitive strategies involving concept mapping may include students using concept maps to create plans of action and to monitor their progress towards completion of more advanced, independent projects.
Concept mapping within the Content Areas
In K-12 mathematics, concept maps can be used to visually represent probability probably as well as heuristics and steps and decisions needed to complete, for example, statistical analysis. For example, the probability tree and statistical decision tree as exemplified on the right provide learners with a useful visual representation of, respectively, probability and an important decision within research. These powerful models allow students to, in the case probability, attain a better understanding of a more abstract concept, and, in the case of statistics, gain an overview of the main concepts and processes of a semester in a single glance.
Within science teaching, use of vocabulary concept maps can be used either in explicit instruction by the teacher or students could be given an assignment to generate a number of sets of related words and ideas connected to a more general, central concept to be examined in class. Concept maps can be used to represent structures, such as biological taxonomies; processes, such as evolution trees and maps depicting life cycles of cells; as well as systems, such as those representing relationships within an ecosystem. Moreover, concept maps can be a useful tool within the teaching of the scientific process and within the teaching of lab procedures as organizational tools.
Within language arts, concept maps can be used to assist students in understanding the grammar and structure of sentences through use of sentence diagramming, a time-tested use of modeling. Similar to its use in science classrooms, concept maps can also be used to teach vocabulary of a series of interrelated words and concepts. Within language arts, concept maps can be useful in representing rhetorical patterns of organization of articles, textbook chapters, and essays. These types of organizers can also be used as students plan their own pieces of writing. Hence, concept maps are useful not only in presenting information but in helping students to follow certain expectations of rhetorical structures .
Within social studies and professional education instruction, concept maps can be used to illustrate organizational structures such as the structure of a business organization or the structure of federal government (as well as the relationship between its branches). Concept maps could also be used to portray an analysis of causes and/or effects that lead or led to certain events and problems in history or the present time, for example, the causes of World War I or the causes and effects of pollution in present times. Within business leadership classes, concept maps can be used to analyze problems and potential outcomes. Concept maps can also be used to depict processes such as how government legislatures pass bills.