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Assessing concept maps

If we recognize that among the key aspects of using concept maps in education, are the detection of misconceptions and the recognition of a learning state, then there can be reasonable expectancy that concept maps be considered a reliable method for us, teachers and professors, to integrate the assessment and instruction of our students.

There is no doubt that concept maps and semantic networks are an excellent basis for self-assessment and that analysis of these mind tools is at the basis of the development of critical thinking skills and autonomous learning. 

Assessing someone else's maps is, though plausible, quiet a different thing


We can assess the map as an artistic achievement, or as a technical skill (that it surely is, and on high demand at the workplace) or as a tangible expression of someone's knowledge about a specific topic. Considering that a teacher's or instructor's main interest is the last one, the outcome of a concept map assessment action is surely (among others) a measure of:
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Knowledge acquisition.

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Misconceptions and gaps in knowledge.

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Organization ability.

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Cognitive skills.

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Depth of processing.

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Conceptual structures.

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Conceptual change.

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Meaningful learning.

Some of these measures are a direct result of teaching and learning, and some other might show the influence of society and school on the student's personality, or both. 

Maybe that could explain the growing interest also of psychologists in Knowledge Master.

What is a "correct" concept map?

If a concept map reflects the current state of knowledge of someone about a specific topic, there is reasonable doubt to state that a concept map by itself is neither right nor wrong. Each student might produce a different concept map which reflect their own previous knowledge. 

The concept map not only reflects previous knowledge, but also the cultural background of the author. Unless we refer to exact sciences, a specific concept may represent very (or somehow) different things. 

It is important to realize that for a teacher/professor dealing with student concept maps offers a very important feedback about student misconceptions (not precisely "errors"), and even common misconceptions, to improve the teacher's presentation of concepts in ways more meaningful to students. 


If the cardinal concept map elements are concepts and relations, then the basic assessment elements would be:


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Concepts: are the more important concepts in the map?

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Relations: do relations connect concepts correctly? It regards the evaluation of:

  1. The specifically connected concepts for every relation.

  2. The specifically used relation type (commonly "label") in every relation. 

In other words: do relations form valid propositions?

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Inclusiveness. Concept maps are not usually hierarchies, but networks. Hierarchies in a concept map are analyzed in the nodes, at the concept level.

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Non-hierarchical relations. These are also called "crossed" relations.

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Relations between maps or map dimensions.

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Instances. Unlike concepts, instances are very specific examples of concepts and bear proper names or allude a specific, non generic thing.


A sophisticated (non indispensable) level of assessment might considerer aspects like redundancy and circularity, among others.

Indirect effects of using concept maps in student overall assessment:

Depth of processing. Students are exceptionally attentive (understood as different than interested) due to the explicit nature of concept maps, both for evaluation and presentation.


Enhanced preparation. The individual nature of mapping provides additional incentive to prepare themselves when the students beforehand know that a class assignment will be a concept map.


Students are motivated. When asked to produce collaborative concept maps, the students interaction leads to deep processing and critical thinking.


Grading concept maps

Nevertheless, grading student concept maps is interesting, but should be used with care, as concept maps and traditional measures of learning might not measure the same thing, though the benefits could displace in favor of concept maps. A point scale that seems to satisfy many instructors is the following:

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Every level of hierarchy (at the node level): 5 points.

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Valid non-hierarchical relations: 10 points.

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Less significant non hierarchical relations: 2 points.

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Relations between maps or between dimensions: 20 points.

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Valid relations (labeled): 1 point.

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Instances: 1 point.

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Correct descriptions of concepts: each, 2 points.


Some details about the preparation of assessment oriented exercises (explorative or pondered) with Knowledge Master concept maps, are contained in the program documentation.


Some interesting field observations

Often students make connections in concept maps, that instructors never thought about. This feedback is a source of improvement for instructors.

The unstructured nature of maps makes catching errors difficult.

A potential relation seen by the instructor is not necessarily an appropriate student relation.

As with most assessment measures, once an objective mechanism of assigning points is revealed to the students, it appears likely that subsequent assessments would reduce the reliability of the measure.

The map is not the end product of learning,but an expression about meaning and importance.

:: Back to the page ::
punto elenco Learning techniques with concept maps

:: Pages for a deeper insight ::

punto elenco Visual learning
punto elenco Active learning
punto elenco Collaborative learning
punto elenco Brainstorming
punto elenco The educational use of concept maps
punto elenco The importance and relevance of concepts in a concept map

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