Thursday, December 9, 2010

Concept mapping with Cmap Tools!

At this stage if one has been playing with the internet and involved in education, you may well have encountered “Mind maps”. Here is an example:

Mind map made with Freemind
Mind maps consist of labels for things connected by links. In a mind map there is generally one central theme and everything proceeds from this, as do branches from a tree.
Concept maps, as conceived in CmapTools, differ, insofar as the links are labeled. This seems like a trivial difference but the theory is that by insisting that you have to define the relationship between the entities shown you force the user to invoke deep thinking about the subject and this promotes longer lasting and better learning. They also allow cross links between nodes, in the above classroom example I could also put in a link between “teacher” and “Students” with the relations ship “talks to” or teaches
Details of the software are on the CmapTools web site. CmapTools Website.
URL: Versions are available for MAC and Linux.
Educational Use.
The most interesting one is for both formative and summative assessment. In the formative role we ask an individual or group to put together a concept map showing all that they know about a subject. We can then look this over identify gaps and misconceptions in the map, and teach to those deficits.
In the summative role it aids in a similar way in identifying gaps and misconceptions.
Notes: this is probably one of the more significant pieces of software that we encountered on this course, however it is also one that probably requires the largest amount of learning time to benefit fully from. As such consider this as just being a starting point. 
Further reading is here: Paper on Concept maps by Novak
Novak is the Cornell professor who pioneered these.
A paper on using Cmaps for summative assessment of ships cadets is here:
Paper on using CmapTools in a Cadet sandwich course.


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