"Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. They include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts. Words on the line, referred to as linking words or linking phrases, specify the relationship between the two concepts" (Novak and Canas, 2008).
Providing students with focused question on a particular topic allows a student to construct a well thought out concept map. It is important not to prompt students with a general question, like "What is DNA" as this might lead to maps that rely on lower levels of understanding which are merely declarative in nature. Instead, prompting students with a question like, "How are genetic disorders formed?" Spending the time to develop a good focus question will lead to higher quality concept maps.
Often times, there are specific concepts that students should include as they construct their concept map. In a parking lot concept map, predefined concepts are included on the map. Students use "linking phrases" to develop the relationship between the existing concepts.
When learners have little prior knowledge of a particular topic, a faculty member may choose to construct a portion of the concept map as a guide or model for students. These expert skelton maps act as a scaffold for students to build understanding.
Assessing student understanding with concept mapping can be incredibly time consuming because learners often construct knowledge in different ways. The dynamic nature of concept maps means that a faculty member assesses every students map individually. Any changes to the concept map can be recorded so the progress of constructing a map can be documented.
Technical assistance is provided to faculty, students, and staff using the following concept mapping software installed in campus computer labs.
Cmap Tools: Developed at the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) within Florida's University System, Cmaps is a free open source program that can be downloaded by you and your students. It can be used to help students construct ideas about key course concepts.
Novak, J. D. and Cañas, A. J. (2008). The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools. Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.