Purposes of Graphic Organizers and Concept Mapping

By: Mitchell L Dutch

There are probably a great many ways that graphic organizers and concept maps can be used in and out of the classroom. To get started, we might want to focus on their uses as:

1. Instructional tools
2. Student learning tools
3. Assessment tools
4. Organizational tools

1. Instructional tools

To present material to students — It would be possible to create a network tree / hierarchal map to display the structure of the federal government. In studying the judicial system, it might be helpful to map out the federal court system. If students have trouble understanding the differences between the federalists and anti-federalists or between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, a comparison contrast table could help reveal similarities and differences. These could be presented as advance organizers to begin a lecture or discussion, or they could be constructed in class on the blackboard or on a Smart Board.

An instructor may include graphic organizers and concept maps during lectures to cover material.
This should help provide a clear relationship between people, literary characters, institutions, events, and terms. — A cluster map could be developed to show the interrelationships between lords and vassals in the Medieval feudal system. A kind of hybrid chain of events / cluster map might help clarify the events that contributed to the Industrial Revolution in England. In anthropology, students may face some difficulty grasping the chronology of homo habilis, homo erectus, homo sapiens, and what may seem to them numerous other classifications. Not having a clear grasp of the individual classifications, they may confuse the characteristics of each group. A chain of events could be developed providing the basic chronology (left to right or top to bottom) then branches could extend out to reveal the characteristics and technological developments.

Certainly, not every topic should or needs to be converted to a graphic format. Certain topics are fairly easy to grasp, but there are numerous complex relationships in subject areas that could be appropriate applications.

2. Graphic organizers as student learning tools

To learn course material

Once students have been introduced to graphic organizers and begin to understand how they might be applied, they can begin using graphic organizers to improve their class notes. During class, of course, many students will be feverishly copying everything without sifting through it. After class, students should be encouraged to develop their own graphic organizers to demonstrate their understanding of the topic. Instructors may want to devote some class time to reviewing samples of students generated graphic organizers so as to check the accuracy of the organizers, review previously learned material, and encourage others to adopt the strategy.

Student generated graphic organizers may be helpful in tying lecture material and information from the textbook into an integrated framework. Generally, experienced instructors are not going to lecture straight from the text or limit class discussions to the text, and students will need to be able to integrate the main ideas form the text with information that the instructor introduces.

As students become aware of how concepts and events are interrelated, they may be able to develop maps that connect learned information from anthropology and history, government and history, or biology and chemistry. There is no reason that subject areas should exist in isolation, and students should benefit from understanding the relationships between information in different subject areas.

3. Concept mapping as assessment

To evaluate student learning

If instructors had sufficient time, graphic organizers could be used as part of a pretest to evaluate the students’ mastery of previously learned information. This, of course, would be dependent on the students having been taught how to develop graphic organizers.

As the semester progresses, graphic organizers could be a component of exams along with multiple choice, essay, and short answer questions. Quizzes could be entirely in a graphic format. Quizzes and exams could be used to determine if students were cognizant of the connections between a chapter covering the issues and disputes that divided the American colonists and the British government before the revolution and the issues the divided the delegates who argued over the powers that should be delegated to the federal government.

If instructors include a comprehensive exam, multiple graphic organizers could be included in the final exam to evaluate the students’ mastery of information over the semester. Certainly, students may not look on comprehensive exams favorably, but they would be an effective tool in prompting students to review course material throughout the semester instead of forgetting material immediately after an exam. If comprehensive exams are included in a course, it would be advisable to schedule mini comprehensive exams that covered the course material to that point. Another approach might be to schedule a comprehensive mid-term exam covering the first half of the course.

So as not to put the entire focus on exams, students might be assigned to create graphic organizers for practice. The instructor could provide feedback and ask students questions designed to fill in gaps in the organizers and prompt students to make further connections. Since students’ understanding of the material will undoubtedly vary, a group or whole class exercise could be effective in exploring possible alternative connections. Students who suggested alternatives should be asked to justify their reasoning. A whole class exercise might be helpful to those students who are still becoming comfortable with the strategy and learning what to include. Students who are still learning to develop graphic organizers will benefit from the practice, and students who have not mastered the content will benefit from the review.

In Computers as Mindtools for Schools: Engaging Critical Thinking (2nd edition) David Jonassen provides the following possible criteria for assessing student semantic nets (concept maps)

• “the number of nodes indicates the breadth of the net
• the number of distinct propositions (node-link-node combinations) indicates completeness
• the ratio of instances to concepts is an indicator of how well integrated the concepts in the domain are (also known as “embeddedness”)
• the centrality of each node is indicated by it number of direct links (concepts linked directly to it) and indirect links (concepts linked to other concepts directly linked to it). Centrality is a measure of the importance of concepts in a domain. Look at the rank ordering of centrality for the most embedded (number of paths two nodes away). Often, the concepts that you believe are most important (typically those at the highest level of
abstraction) are not very central to the net, at least according to this criteria
• the depth (hierarchicalness) of the net is measured by the levels of nodes represented
• is the linking relation between nodes in each proposition valid (Novak & Gowin, 1984)?
• is the relation in each proposition clear and descriptive?
• if the net is hierarchical, how many levels are represented? Is each subordinate concept more specific than the concept above it? (Novak & Gowin, 1984)?
• doe the direction of links with arrows convey a hierarchical or causal relationships between nodes in propositions (McClure and Bell, 1990)?
• assess the validity and synthesis of crosslinks between concepts in different propositions (Novak & Gowin, 1984).
• assess the number and accuracy of linked concept pairs and number of insightful links between concept pairs (White and Gunstone, 1992).
• determine the ratio of instances to concepts (integratedness or embeddedness of concepts)
• check the centrality of each node (how many other concepts is it linked to directly and indirectly?)
• evaluate the number of different link types. Links should be parsimonious. The law of parsimony pertains to the economy with which you express yourself. If six different links will describe all of the relationships in the net, then do not use more than six (i.e. don’t use three different links that mean the same thinking, for examples, “attribute of”, “property of” and “characteristic of”)
• on the other hand, over reliance on one or two particular types of links shows a narrowness in thinking. Use enough links to discriminate meaningful differences. These two criteria require a balancing act of sorts.
Look at the propositions of link types used in the net. Calculate (roughly at least) the propositions of inclusion, characteristic, action, process, and temporal relations)
• evaluate the net’s salience, that is, the number of valid links in the map divided by the total number of links in the map (Hoz, Tomer, and Tamir, 1990).
• determine the consistency in use of links
• determine the ratio of number of links to the number of nodes
• use links consistently throughout the net. The meaning of any link should be the same each time it is used
• look at the number of “dead-end” nodes, that is those that are only linked to one other concept. These are thought to be on the edge of the net. They prevent the browser of the net from traveling to any node other than
the one they cam from
• the ratio of the number of types of links to the number of nodes should be low. it is not appropriate to develop a different type of link for each concept (see earlier comment on parsimony)
• the accuracy of the information included in the net is, of course,
the most important criterion. Are learners making meaningful connections? Is the text in nodes correct? That is, is the information in the net correct?”
pages 74-76

Jonassen also suggests a couple models for evaluating semantic nets

“The richness, elaborateness, and complexity of a net, as described in the assessment criteria just given, are only measures of the meaningfulnees of a net. Evaluating learners’ nets requires standards against which to compare them.” He suggests
(1) comparing the learner’s net with an experts/teachers
(2) have learners construct nets in stages and compare the growth
(3) have learners construct nets from differing views (i.e. explaining Newtonian concepts from the view of the scientist and then the view of a race car driver)
(4) compare learner’s nets to the course goals
pages 76-77

Jonassen, D.H. (2000). Computers as mindtools for schools: Engaging critical thinking (2nd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

4. Organizing Course Content.

Developing or revising an entire course may seem to be a monumental task. Graphic organizers might provide a useful method of creating an overview of the course and determining the main topics and concepts to be included. Once the overall framework has been developed, individual chapters or modules could be laid out (possible with a chain of events / sequence map).

Graphic organizers might be helpful in determining which technologies might be effective and where. (video, Powerpoint, the Internet) The instructor might also determine where graphic organizers might fit into lectures, homework, or exams.

Source: Mitchell L Dutch’s page