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Concept Mapping as a Planning Tool

Concept mapping was originally developed by Dr. Joseph Novak to document the way children learn science (Novak, J. and Canas, 2006). The basic process started as a paper and pencil exercise, but computers have added valuable capabilities.  Computerized concept mapping enables the easy and quick documentation of ideas in the form of graphic images and titles. The design process becomes visual and is enhanced by descriptive text. Individual thoughts can be placed on the page as fast as you can type a word and hit enter; a process that at least one software company calls "rapid fire". As you begin to see relationships, you may connect the ideas with lines and arrows, and sometimes clarify a sequence of events or how ideas are interrelated and connected to multiple points. The computerized maps now give you the ability to add links and multimedia, as well as collaborate with others.  According to Novak, the important information in the concept map is the identification of a word that defines the relationship of one idea to another. Although these programs invite a visual approach, they generally will convert the map into a text outline with the click of a button.

The following list of advantages in using concept maps for curriculum design was composed from the work of Allen, Hoffman, Kompella, & Sticht (1992 ), Dyrud , Edmondson , and Martin.

  • By constructing a concept map, you can see areas that appear trivial, that you may want to drop from the course.
  • You can discover the themes you want to emphasize.
  • You can understand how students may see or organize knowledge differently from you, which will help you better relate to the students and to challenge their ways of thinking.
  • The mapping process can help you identify concepts that are key to more than one discipline, which helps you move beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries.
  • Concept maps help you select appropriate instructional materials. You can construct a map that incorporates teaching strategies as well as time and task allocations for various parts of the course.
  • You can visually explain the conceptual relationships used for your objectives in any course.
  • You can facilitate efforts to reconceptualize course content.
  • Rather than being a traditional course plan that assumes students will integrate learning, concept maps depict the intentions of faculty -- the integration you expect to occur.
  • You can use concept maps to provide a basis for discussion among students and to summarize general course concepts.
  • Concept maps support a holistic style of learning.
  • Mapping concepts can increase your ability to provide meaningfulness to students by integrating concepts.
  • Concept maps can increase your potential to see multiple ways of constructing meaning for students.
  • Mapping the concepts can help you develop courses that are well-integrated, logically sequenced, and have continuity.
  • Concept maps help "teachers design units of study that are meaningful, relevant, pedagogically sound, and interesting to students" ( Martin, p. 28).
  • Concept maps help "the teacher to explain why a particular concept is worth knowing and how it relates to theoretical and practical issues both within the discipline and without" (Allen, et al).
  • Student-generated maps can also help to make student thinking visible.  You gain an appreciation of just how students understand a concept by viewing their visual representation of a concept.

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How To Construct and Use Them
Seminal article by Joseph Novak and Alberto Canas.

Designing Courses on Napkins: Is there a better way?
Article by Bud Deihl on use of concept maps to design a class.

Some Common Concept Mapping Tools

  • Cmap
    The CmapTools software suite allows users to construct concept maps representing their understanding of a domain of knowledge. In the case of a large domain, or of a detailed representation of a domain, a single concept map can become unmanageable for the user to comprehend, display, and manipulate. To facilitate the construction of large representations, CmapTools allows the user to split them into collections of concept maps (Cmaps). To show the relationships between the Cmaps in the set, the software facilitates the linking of Cmaps, enabling the navigation from one Cmap to another. Additionally, the user can establish links to other types of resources (e.g. images, videos, sound clips, text) that help explain and complement the information in the map.
  • Gliffy
    Gliffy allows you to create online maps and share them, facilitating collaboration.
  • MindMeister
    MindMeister brings the concept of mind mapping to the web, using its facilities for real-time collaboration to allow truly global brainstorming sessions. Users can create, manage and share mind maps online and access them anytime, from anywhere. In brainstorming mode, fellow MindMeisters from around the world (or just in different rooms) can simultaneously work on the same mind map and see each other's changes as they happen.
  • Bubbl.us
    Bubbl.us is a simple and free web application that lets you brainstorm online.
    • Create colorful mind maps online
    • Share and work with friends
    • Embed your mind map in your blog or website
    • Email and print your mind map
    • Save your mind map as an image
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Last updated: 09/22/2009
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