Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Concept mapping today…….

Recent proponents of concept mapping give the impression that this is a new phenomenon—it’s not. Concept mapping is ancient in origin and probably one of the first documented art forms of communication.

The earliest known examples of knowledge mapping occurred around 30,000BCE, thereby pre-dating both written and oral language. And sometime between this period and 6,000BCE, petroglyphs and pictographs made their appearance.

The oldest known codified knowledge map is on the Maikop Tomb vase, dated about 3,000BCE. This is believed to be the first instance of a map providing strategic information on game and hunting. The oldest known cartographic maps appeared in China and, although there appears to be some debate about who was the first cartographer, these maps appeared between 300BCE and 1200AD.

Skipping forward to the 19th century, we find military maps were used for pre-battle strategy and post-war analysis (e.g., Napoleon’s march into Russia in 1812); today these types of maps are used for military manoeuvres and gaming.

By the 20th century, knowledge mapping had been widely adopted in such fields as education, sociology, informatics, engineering and business.

What modern proponents have done is given knowledge mapping techniques structure, rules, some gloss and polish, several distinctive names, and promoted their application in a very wide range of situations.

The term, knowledge map, encompasses a very large diversity of map types known by such names as cognitive map, concept map, mind map, semantic map, semantic network, cognitive structure, knowledge structure, conceptual knowledge. There are no doubt synonyms in this list (maybe they are all synonyms of each other), but I am restricting my comments for the moment to two popular terms under the knowledge map umbrella: the concept map and the mind map.

Even with these two terms, there is disagreement regarding their relationship to each other. References have described a mind map as simply a free-form variant of a semantic network or the name for a unique form of concept map. Other references were equally adamant that there is really no similarity between the two: the concept map is supported by scientific study; mind maps are the product of unproven, parapsychological or pseudo-scientific thinking.

As a consequence of this debate, there continues to be two schools on the web and in the literature: those promoting concept maps and those promoting mind maps, as if they are two, complete, separate entities or techniques. Seldom does one read the opinion that “a mind map is a concept map” but, nevertheless, I believe that that is the case.

Some proponents claim that concept maps and mind maps cannot be converted to each other; however, my own experience suggests that this is not wholly correct, although it may require an inordinate amount of effort to achieve adequate equality, if either map is of even moderate size. And why would anyone bother; these maps are really intended to serve very different purposes.

But it appears that there is a lot of confusion in the world of concept mapping regarding these two terms. A scan of numerous websites and published papers reveals a rather careless mix-and-match nomenclature to constructed maps by their creators.

Nevertheless, I prefer to disregard the concept map versus mind map arguments that pervade the many website discussions, as it serves no real purpose in regard to my work. Both mapping techniques work for me, but not necessarily equally for all purposes.

Arguments concerning the definition of a concept map vs a mind map appear to persist due to a mistaken belief that a concept map must equate to a model recently developed by Joseph Novak and therefore must follow its rules. However, the Novkian concept map model is really only one of many models, all collectively falling into the category of the general term, “concept map”. The Novakian concept map model was developed to satisfy specific requirements in the educational field for teaching and learning and associated evaluation and assessment processes.

Similarly, the Trochim concept map model was recently developed to satisfy specific requirements in the field of sociology.

But concept maps are utilized in many fields of study and they don’t necessarily follow the rules set out for either the Novakian or Trochim model. There are many types of concept maps and techniques for constructing concept maps.

Choosing one map method over another is a personal decision, based on what is the best way to portray the concept(s) for a specific purpose. At work, if I’m asked a question, the staff know that I’m going to head for the white board and start drawing, as soon as I detect a lack of understanding to a verbal exposition. These drawings often turn out to be a combination of a concept map and a mind map.

Today, I use various forms of concept map in both work and leisure activities. More than half of my mapping time, however, is probably spent mind mapping.

Whether it’s a concept map or a mind map, it takes time to create it, and even more time to revise and refine it. But maps are never really finished; there is always room for improvement. Sometimes the maps must be completely re-done.

There is no doubt a tendency, after the first hand-drawn draft, to consider a map complete because of the work involved in re-working the map, even a little. Changes, corrections, additions can quickly make a mess of a map, unless it is re-drawn.

Computer software provides a solution to this problem: maps can be easily revised, re-drawn and completely re-designed. And when one is looking to use mapping for a variety of purposes, as I am, software can become a necessity, if it truly does what is intended.

Although I consider mind maps to be a sub-set of concept maps, it is convenient to consider the two mapping techniques as uniquely separate because, for the majority of the software industry, that is how the software is designed. Until recently, I had not found any software that could easily create good representations of both types of maps. So, when it came time to select some software, I was looking for two software packages, not one.

I’ve spent several months researching conceptual mapping (primarily concept and mind mapping) and then associated mapping software in hope of achieving what I was seldom able to accomplish using paper and pen: 1) maps that could be easily refined, redrawn and restructured as needed, and more important 2) maps that would serve the purpose for which they were intended.

To date, I’ve read quite a lot of history, research papers, and software promotional material, and reviewed close to 50 software packages, via specification sheets, trial downloads, and actual purchases. And I'm still at it.

I established a set of evaluation criteria and assessed how each software package performed assigned tasks. Fortunately, I didn’t have to actually run all the software; there are a sufficient number of similar packages on the market and software specifications available, so that the selection process could be narrowed down considerably.

Although my analysis may not have been scientifically exhaustive, I think I covered the subject matter more than adequately. I’m going to post the procedures I followed and some general personal opinions regarding software suitability.

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Blogger Denham said...


I'm glad I have found your blog and intend to read further. One of the main differences between mindmaps and concept maps IMO is the latter are non-hierarchical, cyclic links are permitted and it is possible to link to more general concepts from more specific ones or to go across levels.


November 25, 2006 8:26 PM  
Blogger Staz said...

Hi Denham,
I visited your site a little while ago; however, I didn't realize your archives were so extensive. I initially only saw the 2006 entries.
I haven't had an opportunity to review your entries, but I would agree that concept maps in general can be much more complex (rich?) than mind maps. It really comes down to "what is the intent and/or objective of the map and how quickly the map is to be created". For illustrating processes, concept maps are the answer. For brainstorming, associating ideas, documenting facts/ideas, however, I use mind mapping because it's fast and doesn't get in the way of generating information. For me, concept mapping for the same purposes takes longer to assemble details. This seems to be the case, whether a computer or pen and paper is used.
I read Safayeni and Canas' paper quite some time ago, but will have to back and re-read it. I recall that my initial thought about the cyclic map concept was that it reminded me of control systems engineering diagrams that I studied in school. In my followup entry on general concept software evaluation, you will find another example of a cyclic map, that of the Kreb's cycle in aerobic metabolism. And of course, cyclical (feedback?) systems are quite common in software engineering, or wherever iterative processing is needed.

December 05, 2006 12:17 AM  
Blogger Staz said...

Don't bother hunting for that Kreb's cycle map, I mentioned earlier. I just realized that I replaced it with a Nitrogen cycle map (it's the same idea, though).

December 05, 2006 12:46 AM  

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