RE-EXAMINING THE FOUNDATIONS FOR EFFECTIVE USE OF CONCEPT MAPS
Alberto J. Cañas and Joseph D. Novak Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (FIHMC), USA www.ihmc.us
Abstract. The use of concept maps continues to growworldwide, and users are consistently finding new applications and uses for the tool. However, we continue to observe difficulties in the use of the tool that seem to be consistent throughout countries and domains of use. Among them, we cite the difficulty in the construction and structure of propositions, the lack of a focus question to guide the construction of the map, and the tendency to constructdescriptive as opposed to explanatory concept maps. In this paper we examine how an understanding of the foundations of concept mapping and the ability to ask good questions can aid in addressing these problems, resulting in a more effective use of concept maps.
There are today many different applications for what we call concept maps, and many of these applications aresubstantially different from the uses when this tool was first developed in 1972. Moreover, the advance of computer technology and the development of the Internet have conferred new capabilities for the use of this tool. We thought it would be useful to re-examine the foundations for this tool and to discuss implications for current and future applications. Many of the difficulties we observe with theuse of concept maps derive at least in part from inappropriate use of the tool, lack of adequate training for users and trainers, and a general failure to recognize the importance of the theoretical foundations for the tool. We shall begin with a discussion of some of the difficulties we see in the use of concept maps, review of important theoretical ideas and then move to a discussion of variousapplications, illustrating how the concept mapping tool might be used more effectively. 2 Difficulties
Even though concept mapping today is used in ways and in domains that we would not have been able to predict years ago, the main purpose of the concept map continues to be the same: it is a tool that allows one or more persons to represent explicitly their understanding of a domain ofknowledge; and the theoretical foundations of concept mapping haven’t changed. However, as we see the use of the tool in different places, some difficulties seem to be pervasive. 1. 2. 3. The construction and structure of propositions seems to be a problem that many concept mappers have. The lack of a (good) focus question that ‘focuses’ the construction of the concept map; Concept maps tend to be mostlydescriptive as opposed to explanatory, with many of them being classificatory.
We believe that some of these issues can be addressed by (a) a clear understanding of the foundations, and (b) asking good questions, including the focus question that triggers the construction of map, the questions that teachers use to prompt the students to improve their maps, the questions that map constructors askthemselves while building the maps (which lead to refining and expanding the map and construction of other maps), the questions that students ask each other when collaborating, or the questions that knowledge engineers ask experts while eliciting knowledge. We first re-examine the theoretical foundations and later discuss the topic of questions. 3 Re-examining the Foundations
Concept mapping,as we use this term, derived from a research project where first and second grade children were taught basic science concepts, and interviewed periodically over the twelve-year span of their schooling to determine how this early instruction influenced later learning of science (Novak, 2005; Novak & Musonda, 1991). Novak and his team tried various assessment strategies to monitor children’s...