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December 10, 2007

E-Coaching Core Message #5 Fall 2007 (Tip #54)

Course Wrapping with Concept Mapping -- A Strategy for Capturing Course Content Meaningfully

A common experience in higher education is a frantic last week or two of a term as learners complete projects and requirements and faculty complete final assessments for grading. Great opportunities for learning often take second place! When the frantic feelings are past, we may be tempted to say, "What was that all about and how am I and my brain different?" (Of course, I don't recall asking about my brain after finals when I returned to a cluttered, messy apartment, and wondered what new form of life might be living in the refrigerator or under all the piles of papers and books!)

This ecoaching tip proposes a strategy that you may want to try that can assist in the pruning and focusing of core concepts. This strategy is called Concept Mapping and it can be a powerful tool for knowledge creation and capture?

Concept mapping requires thinking structurally about concepts, both object concepts and event concepts. When we consider the question of what takeaways we want our learners to keep from a course, it is a set of concepts integrated into the learners' previous knowledge that we want most to encourage. Learners also value a set of concepts, because it can be helpful in sharing with family and friends what their course work actually means.

The rest of this ecoaching tip provides definition of concept mapping and related key concepts, a link to a concept map about concept mapping, a link to concept mapping software (free) and a strategy for using this tool for course wrapping.

A Bit of Background on Concept Mapping

You may say -- based on your generalized knowledge -- "Hasn't concept mapping been around for some time? And why hasn't it become more generally used? " Here are a couple of answers to these possible questions.

Yes, the development of concept mapping is generally attributed to Joseph Novak at Cornell University back in 1972 as part of a research program "seeking to follow and understand changes in children's knowledge of science" (Novak & Canas, 2006). The strategy of concept mapping is solidly based on the theory of constructivism, going back even further to Ausubel's work in the 1960s who stressed the importance of prior knowledge in learning new knowledge." But that is probably more than you want to know at this time.

Concept mapping is generally considered to be a tool for cognitive processes such as (1) integrating old and new knowledge; (2) for assessing understanding or diagnosing misunderstanding; (3) brainstorming and creativity, and (4) problem-solving. In other words, concept mapping is a tool for "meaningful learning." And parallel to its original use, concept mapping can be used to follow how knowledge changes and evolves over time.

Core Concepts about Concept Mapping - All You Might Want to Know

Here are three basic definitions and concepts about concept mapping.

  • What is concept mapping? Concept mapping is a tool for organizing and representing knowledge graphically. Here is a concept map of a concept map -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Conceptmap.gif. (Accessed December 8, 2007.)
  • To map concepts, a definition of a concept is useful. A concept is a "perceived regularity in events or objects, or records of events or objects" (Novak and Canas, 2006) Concepts are often words, but we have to be careful about using just words as labels for concepts of complex ideas. Leadership is a concept and works as a simple label, but many concepts are clearer when stated as propositions. Stop and think about the number of concepts in your course and how you might label them, for example.
  • Concept maps are organized hierarchically; however, the hierarchy of complex concepts is not always clear. The structuring of concept maps requires us to identify the following components -- concepts, relationships, and dependencies. By identifying cross-links, new patterns and relationships among the knowledge concepts often reveal themselves.

Integrating concept mapping into my course- What do I do?

Novak and Canas (2006) recommend starting with a "focus question" when using concept mapping. A focus question aids in defining a particular domain of knowledge for a learner to focus on. A focus question also encourages the use of concept mapping for solving problems, requiring learners to use both their generalized available body of knowledge as well as the new course knowledge that is often the focus of a course.

Developing a good focus question is a good collaborative instructional experience as well. Particularly towards the end of a course, you want the learners to think about the following: (1) What they knew before; (Vygotsky's zone of proximal development); (2) what they think they know now; and (3) what they wish they knew -- either how or what to do.) Asking students for suggestions for the question of what they wish they knew can be a rich source of focus questions. The students can also create a list of the course concepts either as a small group or large group activity.

What Next? Is There a Good Tool for Concept Mapping?

One of the early questions was why concept mapping hasn't been more generally used in instruction or even in general problem-solving. One reason, I believe, is that the software to support this type of thinking and analysis has been either clunky, non-sharable, or simply not readily available. Novak and others are now offering a tool for concept mapping that is free for higher education that looks promising. The name of the software is CmapTools version 4.12, and it is freely downloadable from the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition website. http://cmap.ihmc.us/download.

Conditions for Meaningful Learning

Meaningful learning, according to Ausebel, only occurs with three conditions: (1) conceptually clear resources; (2) a learners' prior knowledge, and (3) the learner making an active choice to learn. (Novak and Canas, 2006). Concept mapping can be an effective strategy at many levels. It is a process that requires thinking, analysis, weighing of ideas and identifying relationships and patterns. It's worth a try as a way of wrapping up a course. It also reminds us of how important it is to design in strategies that require learners to pay attention to what they think they may know.

More Simple Reminders about Course Wraps!

If you are not ready to try concept mapping, you can tap into quick reminders about wrapping up a course with e-coaching tip #29 Creating a Closing Experience -- Wrapping up a Course with Style


E-Coaching Tip 29: Creating a Closing Experience -- Wrapping up a Course with Style

E-Coaching Tip 25: Discussion Wraps -- A Useful "Cognitive Pattern" or "Collection of Discrete Thought Threads?"

IHMC CmapTools version 4.12 Concept Mapping Software. Free to Higher Ed. http://cmap.ihmc.us/download/ Accessed December 8, 2007.

Novak, J. D. and Canas, A. J. (2006) The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them. Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01. http://cmap.ihmc.us/Publications/ResearchPapers/TheoryUnderlyingConceptMapsHQ.pdf. Accessed December 8, 2007.

Plotnick, Eric. Concept Mapping: A Graphical System for Understanding the Relationship between Concepts. ERIC Digest. ERIC Identifier: ED407938. 1997-00-00 http://www.ericdigests.org/1998-1/concept.htm. Accessed December 8, 2007.

Schacter, Daniel L. (2001). The Seven Sins of Memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. New York: Houghton-Mifflin. pp. 272.


Course Wrapping with Concept Mapping -- A Strategy for Capturing Course Content Meaningfully



Ecoaching Table of Contents



Revised May 20 2013
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013