Classroom Assessment Technique: Concept Maps
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Classroom Assessment Technique: Concept Maps


Are you looking for ways to creatively engage your students with course material? Do your students need help finding linkages between course concepts or theories? Do you need help assessing students’ learning or understanding course material? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these questions, concept mapping may be an effective tool for you. My name is Dr. Karen Rohrbauck Stout, and I’ve used this technique extensively. As an associate professor in the Communication Department at Western Washington University, I’ve used concept mapping – and more specifically mind mapping – to write papers, develop and give lectures, to think creatively, and to assist and assess student learning. Types of concept mapping, that is drawings and diagrams that show mental connections between concepts, have been used for centuries. They gained popularity with Tony Buzan’s creation of mind mapping in the early 1990s. This method is similar to concept mapping that many of us learned in school to develop paper topics. Mind mapping, however, uses graphics, symbols and text to represent ideas that help us to be creative, get organized and work quickly. It typically has a central concept from which ideas radiate and take shape in an organized and visually memorable way. As all ideas are located on one page, it’s easy for the eye to scan, make sense of and creatively link ideas. Well, I whole-heartedly promote the mind mapping technique because I’ve used it successfully for many years. Here, however, I would like to discuss general instructional strategies for mapping concepts and then leave you to explore the many resources available to create maps in your own style. Mapping concepts is beneficial not only in education, but for work in organizations and businesses as well. It is much easier to manage presentations that are completely contained on one page, rather than stacks of note cards or sheets of paper, acting as a reminder of all the key elements in the presentation without promoting rote delivery. Mapping concepts can help your writing through structuring ideas and innovatively constructing arguments. Recently I’ve begun using mapping as a means of generating class discussions and assessing student learning. Educators Angelo and Cross provide a number of other ideas for using concept maps to assess student learning: Along with other educators, I’ve seen how mapping concepts can help students to: learn terms, concepts, and theories of a subject; synthesize and integrate information and ideas; think holistically, think creatively about a subject; improve long-term memory skills so that knowledge is more accessible; develop higher level thinking skills, strategies and habits; and to develop an awareness to new ideas. One of my favorite new methods for using concept mapping is to generate class discussion. I usually start an in class mapping activity by writing the central topic in the middle of the classroom’s chalk or white board. I start the students off with two or three main ideas and then sit back while they write their ideas and responses on the board. During this activity, no one is allowed to talk. All ideas should be confined to writing on the board. Because mapping allows the creative and free flow of ideas, students can develop one idea or jump around, much like the way our brains think. They build upon or disagree with each other’s ideas on the board. After several minutes of silent writing, I stop the activity and facilitate a discussion of was written. We clarify, expand and disagree with each other’s ideas. The value of this activity—rather than overt, traditional classroom discussion—is that it encourages the usually quiet or shy students to also contribute, especially as they may feel more comfortable conveying their ideas in writing. Surprisingly however, these usually quiet students then fully engage in the discussion that follows. The discussion technique I just described was used to generate ideas and conversation. The result is a collective map that tells the instructor what areas may need further clarification or are well understood. By collectively developing these ideas, students not only reveal their understanding, but then can learn from each other. To get feedback about specific students’ understanding of the material, I often have students write ‘minute papers’ where I asked them a question about a current class topic. I’ve modified this to include concept mapping. I ask students to label the course concept in the center of the map and then give them 3 to 5 minutes to write in the subtopics, facts or examples on lines that radiate from the center. I also ask them to indicate on the map what ideas remain unclear. I can then read the maps to find students’ inaccuracies or questions. This helps me to know what areas need clarification or if students are ready to move on to the next course topic. While using mapping as a feedback loop with students is quite valuable from the instructor’s standpoint, using it for grade-based evaluation can be difficult. Some ideas for grading concepts or mind maps include: I encourage you to try concept mapping or mind mapping in your own classrooms or for your own personal use. A variety of sources are available to teach you the specifics of the technique. If you are resistant to the idea, I encourage you to try it first before disregarding it. I too was resistant when I was an undergraduate, until I used it to study for an exam which I aced. I then tested it out to write a paper and found it to be an efficient and effective method for constructing my ideas and I’ve used it ever since. Once you see the potential uses and value of this technique, I’m sure it will be one tool you use again and again.

About James Carlton

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7 thoughts on “Classroom Assessment Technique: Concept Maps

  1. Thank you. I feel you should give the whole vid summarized , in a description, written. As some may feel easy to understand when they read.

  2. The video has captioning, so you can see what is said by clicking the red CC icon. Also, a transcript, references, and resources are available on our Online Video Module page for this video. See link now in the description above.

  3. Dr. Karen Rohrbauck Stout's suggestions for the use of mind maps in instruction are excellent. This video has challenged me to think of ways in which I could use these approaches in online courses. The key would seem to be using a software toolkit that is freely available and does not require too steep a learning curve. IHMC's CMAP is probably a good place to start.

  4. Great ideas and explanation. Do you think this could be applied in an ESL context? I wonder if students could write only 1 word each/ draw a picture, depending on their level of English… Food for thought! Thanks so much 🙂

  5. Thank you for all the wonderful comments! In regards to your specific question, I think this would be EXCELLENT for applying to an ESL context and recommend trying it.

  6. Thanks for the help!  I have also found what a concept map is through lucidchart and it was very easy to use!  www.lucidchart.com/pages/what-is-a-concept-map

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