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Formative Assessment Techniques Online – Concept Mapping

We have already discussed the use of concept maps as a planning tool in.

Concept maps can also be used formatively to make student thinking visible.  When students construct and submit their understanding of key concepts and their linkages through a concept map, it becomes clear whether in fact the students understand the conceptual framework around a topic of study.

Concept maps are visual representations of linkages/connections between a major concept and other knowledge students have learned. Concept maps can be used by faculty as a diagnostic pre-assessment prior to beginning a unit and formative assessments during learning activities. Concept maps also provide immediate visual data to faculty on student misconceptions and their level of understanding. Angelo and Cross (1993) indicate that concept maps develop student abilities in certain critical areas. Among these are:

  • The ability to draw reasonable inferences from observations
  • The ability to synthesize and integrate information and ideas
  • The ability to learn concepts and theories in the subject area

Micheal Zeilik of University of New Mexico has a nice guide to concept mapping which includes this concept map about concept maps:

Zeilik noted the following pros and cons:

  • Concept maps help students focus on the "big picture", enabling them to devote more of their time to conceptual understanding rather than rote learning
  • Concept maps force students (and instructors!) to make valid connections among concepts
  • They provide a low tech (cheap!) vehicle that enables students to represent graphically their knowledge, and to share it with the instructor and other students
  • They shift the emphasis from inert, static knowledge to contextually-embedded knowledge; from isolated facts to theoretical frameworks of related concepts
  • In addition to their role as assessment tools, concept maps offer a useful way to help students "learn how to learn"; they also serve as useful vehicles for course development and as graphic organizers before, during and after instruction


  • Comparisons among students are more difficult because concept maps tend to reveal the idiosyncratic way that students view a scientific explanation, as a result...
  • Evaluation can become more time-consuming for the instructor, especially in large classes, unless some variation (such as Select & Fill-in) is adopted
  • If you score maps, you must use a consistent (and tested) scheme
  • Students who have developed a strong facility for rote learning of verbal knowledge sometimes find concept maps intimidating
  • Constructing concept maps is a demanding cognitive task that requires training

Some Common Concept Mapping Tools (previously covered in Course Design)

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Last updated: 09/22/2009
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