When you are faced with a challenge how do you do your best thinking? Are you logical and analytical, or more abstract and random? Are you a Right Brain Thinker (intuitive, synthesizing, subjective, random, holistic)? Or a Left Brain Thinker (logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective)?
Do you consciously try to balance your approach to a problem or question? Concept Mapping (also known as Mind Mapping) is a tool that helps you think through complex problems, summarize information, or plan projects in a more visual way. It can help you to step away from a one-sided approach and take a look at another way to organize your thoughts, or a project.
The following example of a concept map comes from Mike Wazowski's blog Learner-Shaped Technology. Mike used concept mapping software (Cmap Tools) to give us a closer look at Superheroes and the issues they deal with.
According to Joseph Novak, emeritus professor at Cornell, "concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge." Novak is well known for his work on concept mapping. A technical report on his ideas and methodology is available here: download. In the corporate world Tony Buzan is the developer of what he calls "Mind Maps." Check out his site to see colorful, graphic-laden examples.
The Web Center for Social Research Methods describes concept mapping as a "structured process, focused on a topic or construct of interest, involving input from one or more participants that produces an interpretable pictorial view (concept map) of their ideas and concepts and how these are interrelated." They go on to say that concept mapping helps people to manage the complexity of their ideas without trivializing them or losing detail.
Reasons to use Concept Mapping
- Learning Tool
- Evaluation Tool (products, processes)
- Consolidate information from multiple sources
- Summarize information
- Reveal hidden patterns, connections between elements
- Think through complex problems
- Change the way people think about data
- Remember complex information
- They are fun!
How to Create a Concept Map
Hal White's site proposes that you use the following as a way to create and organize your concept map. Check out his site for more details.
- Brainstorm: Identify facts, terms, ideas. Put each one on a Post-it Note.
- Organize your concept terms into groups and sub-groups, create hierarchies
- Layout: create a layout that reflects your understanding of relationships and connections
- Link the concepts, define relationships
- Finalize: add images and color
You can keep it simple. Use Post-it Notes with a big tablet of paper to create your concept map. If you prefer to use software there are many programs available. Ryan Torma (Director of Learning Design and Technology) has used Xmind for website development. A few other sites are listed below. There are many free, open source options for concept mapping software.
Websites about Concept Mapping
Concept Mapping Software
Watch the recorded video from the Tech Talk on Concept Mapping
-J Bartholomew, electronic services