Thursday, February 12, 2009

Concept Maps: from pencil to virtual worlds

I presented at an online conference recently ("Connecting Online 2009") on concept maps. I not only want to present on concept maps and the technology around them, but I think I can show how the change in the media used to create the maps can change the way we think about the ideas and information. This is not really very new - the seeds of this argument were planted in readings from McLuhan to George Siemens. I felt that CO '09 was a good preliminary attempt at defining that and I will expand that work for a live presentation in Wanatchee later this year. One of the things I have discovered about concept maps is that, for myself, there is no "right" technology: pencils, Inspiration, Freemind, Personal Brain, and Spidergram Planner in Second Life all do different things and those differences can allow us to see information and problems in new ways. I don't like how some of the software forces you to label each connection but that labeling process can be helpful in seeing ideas differently. A lot of the discussion of the differences between "mind maps" and "concept maps" range from the nearly logical to the arbitrary; what you decide ultimately reveals what kind of thinker you are rather than which definition or tool is the "correct" one to use. I find myself using different tools in different situations. I used to teach in k-12 and that system has a long history of using concept maps. K-12 was on the cutting-edge with rubrics and portfolios long before they showed up in colleges. But it is no accident that concept maps are a popular teaching tool in k-12 schools because that is where students are just learning how to form their ideas and how ideas and thoughts are connected to one another.

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