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In a concept map or semantic network, knowledge representation is accomplished by relations (with their relation types), concept types, and the overall map connectivity. In Knowledge Master, concept types are categories, conceptual categories; categorization is one of the main principles of cognitive psychology. Understanding is difficult without categorization.

While the relation type renders explicit what is the relation between two concepts, the 
concept type renders explicit the specific role a specific concept (or a concept set) has in the conceptual context, in topic represented in the map. 

The concept type explains, for instance, that a concept belongs to a certain general taxonomy o physical, social o philosophical function. 

In learning environments (from school up to higher levels), it is preferred to enunciate this aspect as a concept attribute, related to the role of the concept in the topic represented in the map. 

For instance, in a map about the Earth, the concepts “Moon” and “Sun” could be of the “aster” type, or else could respectively belong to the "star" and "satellite" types. 

This attribute is a knowledge bearer and has a strong incidence in student perception, logically and visually as well. 

In this optic, the same concept might have different concept type attributes in different maps, depending on the role of the concept in the specific map.

For instance, in a map about the universe, the "Sun" could be of the “star” type, while in a maps about heat, it could be of the “heat source” type. 

These are decisions of the map author, as well as defining or not the concept types.

Certainly, using concept types acquires greater importance when a concept type qualifies several concepts in the same map. 

An example of using concept types (taken from the map "Heat"): the concept "radiazione (radiation)", the author has considered  belongs to the type "heat transfer", as well as the concepts "convezione (convection)" e "conduzione (conduction)". The other concepts, evidently, belong to other types, to other categories. 

The message overlaying the map appears automatically when the mouse pointer passes on the concept, evidencing the concept name, the concept type and some other properties. 

The Sun images in fact an animation that evidences radiation and the Earth as well is an animation, but as such they are only visible in the real map, not in this static map.


When the student analyses the map, autonomously or guided by the instructor or the teacher, the concept type or, even better, that the concept belongs to a type or a conceptual category contributes decisively to precise representation, to stimulate student attention and the map perceptive power, enabling thus a greater satisfaction of cognitive needs.

An accurate presentation from the visual point of view reinforces perception and motivation, enhances visualization that, on its time, improves and reinforces short term memory.

The concept type, beside logical characterization (that enhances understanding), may have a specific graphical aspect, in symbol shape and colors, that represents it uniquely. 


The rational use of color and shape
(When color and shape have sense and contribute to the perception of meaning)

The possibility of representing concepts and data roles differentiation in the map also visually,  is another important feature of using concept types, because it has a direct incidence on student, empowering understanding and their associative capacity, speeding up and facilitating new concepts integration.

Characterizing concept type graphical aspect eases memorization, association and discovering and constitutes a visual suggestion to the categorization of the represented concepts, a cognitive induction.

When analyzing or observing the map, the students perceive a graphical aspect regularity of a specific concept set (even if not necessarily in the same map neighborhood), they instantly attribute these concepts a  logical regularity, associate them, understanding that it is a category. 

Learning these regularities through perception is immediate, has also a subliminal value, because it lies very near to the conscious perception threshold, uses stimuli and augments motivation.

Using geometrical shapes and colors uniformly flattens the map, while using shapes and colors selected at random or "by definition", or to draw attention  to the "important" concepts, is not necessarily knowledge representation, and might even reduce learning possibilities. 

One of the more important aspects of visual projection is the attention to color harmony, to avoid the risk of monotony or overstimulation.

The correct use of color, geometries and symbol sizes in concept maps

Longing for an interesting, attractive, exciting and non monotonous presentation to students,  sometimes we prepare colorful maps, with geometrical symbols selected at random or with arbitrary sizes.

Sometimes, instead, we adapt map objects to long phrases, also lacking conceptual meaning. 

Assigning arbitrary graphical attributes map concepts (or to the “important” concept) withdraws part of the map logical value, that might become misleading, or create perplexity in students, reducing the effect of presentation, and inhibiting fluidity and efficacy in studying. It results in a topic representation distortion and our efforts become worthless. 

In every explanation or presentation the student expects, consciously or unconsciously, a certain logic and much coherence, that are, however, important aspects of any educational presentation. 

How to explain irregularity when this becomes lacking regularity

We know that concept types have a logical and cognitive value. They first exist as categories, and then may have graphical attributes, from which we can visually infer that the concept belongs to a type or category, and that it is the category to dress up with graphical attributes, to be immediately and easily perceivable.

This is also the more simple and elegant mode to improve esthetical aspects, integrating them in the map, also involving cognitive elements of the map itself: the concept type is defined once (with two or three clicks), ad afterwards its graphical attributes can be repeatedly modified. At any change, all concepts belonging to that type assume immediately the same graphical configuration, that remains always modifiable.

When a map is used in a lesson or presentation to students (present or distant) concept may be also referred to explicitly through its type (e.g.: “lake type”, “operations property”, etc.), and suddenly the students understand that all concepts with the same graphical dressing belong to the same category, and thus have the same role in the conceptual context, “in the map” in the topic they are studying.

Important aspects in the selection of geometrical symbols and colors

Geometrical symbols and colors are used in specific ways by different methodologies, standards, norms, schools of thought, and specialized diagrams.

Standardized diagrams and those specialized (flow, cause-effect, etc.) use geometrical symbols in a canonical mode: they always have the same proper meaning, and the user perceives them with that meaning, even when when it doesn't relate to the current knowledge representation. 

Symbols and symbol families are a language and, in every language, every symbol has its own specific meaning: the student will instinctively attribute to every symbol the value he/she is used to.

If, as it usually happens, the student knows flow diagrams, will understand that a rhombus represents a question, that a trapeze means input/output, etc., and that will somehow change the cognitive message goal.

The ellipse is the default symbol used for concepts and informational units in most knowledge representation software, and even since maps and networks were drawn on paper. 

Beside the ellipse, the more liberally used symbols (because of their generality, anonymity and text capacity) are the rectangle and the square. Other symbols, as the rectangle with curved sides, are used  successfully for the same reason. 

Beauty and harmony are important aspects of a map to share or to present to others; these goals are reached with the careful use of regularities, colors, symmetries and harmonies, and placing concepts and relations, rather than with colors or with the arbitrary adaptation of graphical resources to long texts or casual colors.

When, watching or analyzing the map, the student perceives a regularity in the graphical dressing of a specific concept set (even if not necessarily placed in the same map neighborhood), instantly and intuitively attributes these concepts a logical regularity, associates them, understand that it is a category. 

Learning these regularities through perception is immediate, has even a subliminal value, because it lie very near to the conscious perception threshold, used stimuli and augments motivation.

This image evidences the use of different shapes and colors association to graphically represents concept types. 

In Knowledge Master, even when the concept (or informational unit) is represented with an image, the concept type, - if assigned - remains.

Using uniformly geometrical shapes and colors flattens the map, while using colors selected at random, or just defined, or to attract student attention to "important concepts", is not necessarily knowledge representation, and might even reduce map power. 


Color selection

When defining the concept type graphical aspect, several colors can be associated  to several symbol elements:

punto elenco

 the bottom of the geometrical symbol (ellipse, rectangle, etc.);

punto elenco

 the characters;

punto elenco

 the symbol border.

Assigning colors to each of these elements is a map author's choice. 

The selection should mainly reach a pleasant association, the contrast between background and foreground, legibility and an easy differentiation of concept types.

A table of contrasting and complementary (very contrasting) colors, is found in the page related to colors (click the link to access the page).


Character face is also variable, and it is possible to select between bold, italics, underlined, or any combination of these faces.

The innovative use of color families stimulates and augments student perception.

It is important to remember that these presentation and marking resources, that constitute a logical-visual strategy, are more useful to differentiate concept categories than to accentuate the importance of the single concepts. The importance of a concept is cognitive, and is conferred by its associations in the map.

An adequate use of logic (pure and simple) and of graphical aspect in defense of cognition to stimulate understanding and motivation. A deeper insight of visual learning.





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