Web 2.0: Concept Maps as Mindtools


Background

This along with many of my future posts, will be a bit of a departure from the type of blogging I normally do. Now that I have entered into the journey of completing my second masters, it seems that my blog has become a useful part of the program! Currently, I am in a class entitled “Computers, Problem Solving, and Cooperative Learning”. At this point in our class we have begun exploring Web 2.0 tools together by collaborating around the topic “Poverty in America” In this post I am going to reflect on a collaborative concept map the class has been working on using bubble.us, as well as the idea of concept mapping as a mindtool. As we go through exploring each tool, we have been tasked to reflect on our personal experiences on our individual blogs.

Other posts from this  web log:

Wikis and Blogs

Deliberating Databases

Digging Deeper into Google Sheets

Concept Mapping

flickr photo by brewbooks https://flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/7780990192 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

flickr photo by brewbooks https://flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/7780990192 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

This was an eye-opener for me because I initially felt as though concept mapping was such a simple tool that probably most educators had used in one way or another. It made me wonder why it was included as a collaborative ‘mindtool’ to explore in this class. According to Jonassen (1996 as cited in Jonassen et. al., 1998), “Mindtools are computer applications that, when used by learners to represent what they know, necessarily engage them in critical thinking about the content they are studying.” I found out shortly after, that I was confusing concept maps with mind maps! One of the most prominent differences that I noticed was the labels on the connecting lines, or propositions (Novak & Canas, 2008), which are not present on a mind map. These labels force you to reflect deeper upon the relationship between the two ideas rather than simply drawing a line and calling it a day.

When I first explored bubble.us, it was interesting to walk into a map where students before me had already been constructing and adding to it (this map had already been created by students of this class from previous semesters). I found that I needed to double check when I found an article that I wanted to add because it might have already been added by someone else. although bubble.us was simple with very few features to work out, I also thought that this platform was limiting because it was hard to include propositions on the lines. Either you added an extra bubble or skipped the proposition. Based on what was already built in this map, it seemed like students decided to skip the propositions. To me, this map felt more like a mind map than a concept map. What was good, was that several people could plan and organize information together into a map. It offered an opportunity for seeing other people’s thinking and perspectives as one person might not organize the map the same way as the next. I also liked the fact that we could always edit both our own and other’s contributions, helping the map become more defined and developed.

I find that a mind map is often a great way to collect ideas on the go and make connections along the way through undefined lines. A messy mind map shows lots of thinking that happens in a short amount of time. However, the concept map requires more reflection and planning as the objective is to organize the knowledge you already have. I could see a mind map being used to collect ideas then later organized into a concept map to encourage higher order thinking skills. How do I know this? It just so happened that in another class that I am taking on “Cognition and Computers”, we were tasked to create a concept map outlining the elements that make up successful completion of our current degree program both in school and outside of school. I attempted this assignment initially by doing it the way I create mind maps, by just putting down my thinking as it came along and making connections wherever I saw them. This is how my first map came out:

Yep, pretty crazy right? It is very hard to follow visually and make sense of because I attempted to create a concept map the way I would a mind map. Another element to this assignment was that we were supposed to create something that we could give to a computer to process and read. With that in mind, I realized my map would make a computer program crash! So, I set out to reorganize the data I had placed in my map and somehow managed to keep almost all the original pieces (and even add a few more), but created a map that had a more organized flow to it. As you can see I connected all the elements to two main branches, ‘Student’ and ‘Faculty’. From those two branches, most other concepts fell into place under one or the other. Where there were cross links I created arrows to indicate this.

Through this process I got to see the power of concept maps and how they reinforce critical thinking. What I thought would be really interesting is if all of us who are taking the same program got together and tried to build a map of our program together. That would add in even more thinking as we negotiated each other’s ideas while still keeping the map flowing in a logical manner! Anyone interested in experimenting?
References:
Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yueh, H. P. (1998). Computers as mindtools for engaging learners in critical thinking. TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
Novak, J. D., & Cañas, A. J. (2008). The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them.

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