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Classroom Assessment Techniques
Concept Mapping

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Collaborative Concept Mapping.
Sometimes the frustration levels can be very high when concept mapping is first introduced, especially in large classes of relative novices. To counter some of this anxiety and to encourage students to reflect on their own thinking, ask groups of 3 or 4 students to work together on a concept map. This exercise is often a very rewarding and rich learning experience as peers argue, debate, and cajole each other. The result is a genuine effort to negotiate the meaning of scientific concepts, attempting (as scientists do) to reach consensus, or to stake out different points of view. The power of the process resides in the interpersonal sharing of ideas, which are made explicit to the instructor.

Fill-in Concept Mapping
You construct a concept map and then remove all of the concept labels (keep the links!). You then ask the class to replace the labels in a way that makes structural sense. Best done with small classes; a good way to introduce a new topic.

Select and Fill-in Concept Mapping
You create a concept map and then remove concepts from the nodes (about one-third of them). These deleted concepts are placed in a numbered list on the map and students choose among them. Scoring can be as simple as "percent correct." Instructors of large classes may use multiple-choice type scanning sheets. The assumption of this technique is that as students' thinking approximates that of the instructor, the closer their connected knowledge is "expert-like." The key is to select nodes that are at different levels of the hierarchy and have nearby or antecedent links.

Select and Fill-in Concept Map on Concept Maps

Figure 4: Select and Fill-in Concept Map on Concept Maps
Click here to see a larger version of this graph. [See Figure 1 for the "answers"]

Selected Terms Concept Mapping
You provide a list of concept labels (10 to 20) and ask students to construct their maps using only these labels. The focus here is on the linking relationships, and the evolution of structural complexity of students' knowledge frameworks.

Seeded Terms Concept Mapping
In this approach, also known as "micromapping" (Trowbridge and Wandersee, 1996), you furnish a small set of concept labels (5 to 10) and invite students to construct a concept map using these, and an equal number of labels drawn from their own knowledge of the topic.

Guided Choice Concept Mapping
Here you present a list of some 20 concept labels from which students select 10 to construct their maps. When done over a period of time, the instructor focuses on which concepts appear and which disappear. The assumption is that these changes represent significant restructuring of the students' knowledge frameworks.

To start, we suggest that you focus primarily on the qualitative aspects of students' concept maps with emphasis on the accuracy or validity of the knowledge students represent. Among the questions you might ask yourself are the following:

As you and your students gain experience with concept mapping, you might consider trying one or more of the quantitative "scoring rubrics" currently available (Novak and Gowin, 1984). In the most well-established scoring scheme, 1 point is given for each correct relationship (i.e., concept-concept linkage); 5 points for each valid level of hierarchy; 10 points for each valid and significant cross-link; and 1 point for each example.

Scoring Concept Maps

Figure 5: Scoring Concept Maps
[From Novak and Gowin, 1984]
Click here to see a larger version of this graph.

Pros and Cons

  • Comparisons among students are more difficult because concept maps tend to reveal the idiosyncratic way that students view a scientific explanation, as a result...
  • Evaluation can become more time-consuming for the instructor, especially in large classes, unless some variation (such as Select & Fill-in) is adopted
  • If you score maps, you must use a consistent (and tested) scheme
  • Students who have developed a strong facility for rote learning of verbal knowledge sometimes find concept maps intimidating
  • Constructing concept maps is a demanding cognitive task that requires training

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