While doing research on graphic organizers, I was quickly enraptured by the idea of concept mapping. Concept maps are a means of spatially representing the relationships between ideas and showing how they can form complex networks of knowledge. These types of maps can help both instructors and students more firmly grasp the connections between apparently disparate ideas and help to form a more integrated understanding of a topic or a whole course.
Our university courses are taught in a linear fashion. Ideally we try to scaffold or build towards more complex ideas and skills as the term advances. But the ideas of our courses are not necessarily related to one another in such a simple linear fashion, they often connect to and reflect one another at multiple junctures. In fact, being able to conceptually grasp these multiple juncture points, or how ideas are related on multiple fronts, can be an important step towards real mastery of a subject. Visual resources such as concept maps have been shown to be potent pedagogical tools that aid in building this type of holistic perspective.
In terms of construction, concept maps can show relationships between ideas through spatial placement or proximity (or hierarchy, though that is more usually reserved for tree-diagrams). These maps may be centered around a central idea, although this is not necessary. Importantly, connecting lines (or arrows to show direction) are added to clarify relationships between ideas, and in more detailed maps those lines can be labelled, thus adding even more clarity and precision.
Inspired by its conceptual utility and using these basic principles I’ve just outlined, I set out to create a concept map for my writing course. I wrestled with having my students do their own in groups as an in-class activity (this is often recommended in the literature I consulted), but I decided I needed to struggle with it first to see how reasonable the task would be and how long it would take. Brainstorming the individual components (the ideas/skills I considered most critical) was not difficult, nor was connecting some of the ideas. The biggest challenge was trying to limit the different ways I could connect ideas. In fact, if I was to recreate my concept map from scratch, it almost certainly would look a little different. I tinkered with it a bunch, mostly playing with the labels on the connecting lines. I decided to give it to my students near the end of the term, using it as a cover to a stack of (digital) documents I provide each student (this includes some of their own reflective pieces and copies of handouts we’ve used in class that I think will serve them after our course). Nevertheless, below is my concept map for my writing course.
I first showed the students the concept map as projected onto a screen in our classroom. I didn’t tell them what it was and allowed them a few minutes to discuss its meaning and purpose in small groups before having a short class discussion. Since I only learned about creating concept map towards the end of my course, I would likely do this at the beginning of the course next time.
Lastly, I was greatly inspired by Linda B. Nilson’s The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating your Course when I designed my concept map. It provides numerous examples and an assortment of ways one could tackle such a project.