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At the center of
attention of the concept maps users community there has always been the
concern about the map "access point", the point to start "reading" the
map from, from which to start analyzing its contents.
criteria about maps (those more diffused, though already widely overcome, and in
some aspects also denied) by the developments in technology and in cognitive psychology itself, proposed
this role of the "more important concept" ("m.i.c", that
is usually translated into a big red colored
symbol)... a unique milestone that, "just by chance", usually bears the same name
of the map. This "m.c.i." must be defined by the author and/or must be
placed at the top of a hierarchy, but concept maps are not hierarchical.
In practice (as well as
in theory), this approach fails, it becomes more of an obstacle
than a useful method. And reasons are very simple:
A concept map or
semantic network has always more than one "important" concept,
that is worth special attention.
As importance by
relative, it is very difficult to define "that"
concept. Furthermore, it is always preferable to depend on a
demonstration or on a rational formulation than on a definition.
The same happens
with the definition of several "important concepts" in the same map.
In the map, a
concept by itself has a relative value, its relativity relies
on several factors (the most important one is the student himself),
and its value depends on its relations and on its
information load (its descriptions, Internet links, associated
documents, multimedia, etc.).
If among the great
virtues and characteristics of concept mapping and semantic networking there is the avoidance of the difficulties imposed by text reading
and decoding, to facilitate perception,
comprehension and reasoning, transferring to the map the
same principles of text reading (the organization in
phrases or paragraphs and the reading start and end points), this means
depriving the maps of the "conceptual"
and "cognitive" principles; the quality of knowledge representation and its
corresponding management loses power, value and usefulness.
In a real map,
with more than a few concepts, its analysis following the "m.i.c."
indications is rendered more complex and misleading: if all reading
tracks start from the "important concept", there will be paths
(elements of crucial importance) that will never be analyzed.
important cognitive values are lost.
approach conspires against two main principles of comprehension:
map management ergonomics and cognitive economy: from one side we
are induced/compelled to follow constrained paths, that have the
same start concept, and from another side a conscious and detailed
analysis of contents would require more time and effort (if we
stick to the "m.i.c" approach).
The presence of
the "m.i.c." and its graphical distinction collides with the
concept categories: it appears as a category when it really
isn't. A s a matter of fact, instead of
having an orientation role, the presence of
"m.i.c." is confusing, because it simply doesn't make sense,
it's not practical.
Having to define
the "m.i.c." is a responsibility that can be avoided.
As the map must induce
a reflection in the learner, and the map admits many of them, in theory
any map node is useful to start analyzing; beside concept
categories, concepts instances, or nodes that have associated documents,
Internet sites, concepts resulting from internal searches, etc., that enable expansion and deeper insight or the candidate nodes to a preeminent role can mainly be those more
connected. In any case, the user (be it a primary school student or
a researcher), to analyze the maps, relies on his/her observation
abilities (of "looking at and recognizing").
But these observational abilities are not equal for all people; one
of the biggest successes of this technology is precisely a qualitative
and quantitative improvement of learning, that enables everyone,
including people considered as learning "disadvantaged"
or "impaired" or that have a certain degree of dyslexia or ADD (Attention
Deficit Disorder), or that simply
learn in some other way.
However, regarding concept maps/semantic networks looking or observing
is not enough. As the challenging
street jugglers and illusionists say: "the more one looks, the less
In the experiments,
even with people with medium to high computer knowledge qualification, when
for the first time they face or analyze a concept map or semantic network, the first
thing they say is: "Where do I start from?".
The solution is simple,
automatic and auto-validating, and refers to the principles of cognitive
At whichever level it
happens, in the classroom, at a distance, in scientific research or as
knowledge management in a company, learning always occurs through
a communication activity, and consists of (in?) an
information elaboration and integration process. For this,
cognitive psychology offers an
interesting principle: relevance (cognitive and communicative). In
communication, the mind wants to comprehend the message, to comprehend
the contents it conveys, what is interesting, new or coherent (in
this case in the map), in what way this novelty
(the new information) finds a point of contact with our current
in which measure it can activate some already present element
(any resemblance with the Ausubelian principle of cognitive precedence
is not pure coincidence).
This new approach
induces a characterization of the relevance principle in a concept map
or semantic network, already outlined in the research in cognitive
psychology some years ago. The most relevant concepts or nodes in the
map are those that constitute more propositions, those that
receive and/or emit more relations, that is in resonance with the
role of relations as carriers of knowledge in concept maps and semantic
concepts as the natural points to start analyzing the map structure, the following advantages
It helps to overcome
the initial inertia ("where do I start from?") in accessing the
concepts the most connected, accessing the map through these nodes
(or concepts) will require a lower quantity of "readings"/analysis,
for reasoning and comprehending the whole map; from
"most relevant" concepts it is easier to access and
navigate the rest of the map with the minimal amount of accesses.
It is said that
the concept map / semantic network facilitates and somehow speeds up
learning. With this principle, it really accelerates it.
The necessary time
to process contents (to understand and integrate) decreases very
fast, interaction with contents is rendered more effective.
The learner's interaction with
the map becomes more interesting and amusing.
Being the most
relevant nodes those that most probably will take part in
paths in the map, this coincidence legitimates the method.
It is useful with
any contents and with students of any age.
It is a fully
automatic function, just a click.
But the observational ability varies from person to person. When
the map tries to represent, for instance, a comparison
of two objects,
it should be evident at first glance which the focal nodes
are (another way of denominating the most relevant concepts)
due to the concentration of relations. In other maps, it can
also be evident which those concepts are, but not always and not
all of them.
In the map at right, it is evident which are both focal nodes in the
comparison of two objects ("hypertext" and "concept map"), that
the author of the map has expressly wanted to put in evidence.
It is obvious that by analyzing "only" both concepts (their
propositions) the whole map is analyzed. The result is the same
when the most relevant concepts are more than two, and
even when relevance is not graphically so much perceptible (it usually
The solution is
automatically evaluates the most relevant concepts
in the map,
and presents them by order of relevance, starting from the most relevant.
When presented, every concept blinks in the map "saying"
(literally, with a voice) its name.
A list of all concepts
that have been considered over the relevance threshold remains available to the user,
in order of relevance, and two buttons. With the buttons, it is
possible to locate concepts sequentially, to
analyze in each one its own context.
From the list it is
possible to directly select any concept, to access it in one of these
the concept blinks, to let us locate it and proceed with analysis.
a new context is activated with the full selected concept neighborhood,
the list of all of its propositions, just as if we had asked the map "What do you
know about (the concept)?". The map sector in
concept is located is presented to the user. The
presentation has a voice support for better perception.
The function, a
knowledge management strategy applied to learning, analyzes and
presents a sector of the cognitive structure, in a way that corresponds
to the natural characteristics of the mind, it resorts mainly to
the characteristics of human perception and to the working memory
capacity, and demonstrates its efficacy enabling the analysis of the map in
the simplest mode, saving time and effort. The fact that it uses voice
synchronically, transcends the normal perception threshold, using
voice channel and the visual channel. This strategy, even though it is simply a
general learning resource, is specially
effective on people
affected by dyslexia, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and by some other limitations associated with
traditional learning/teaching methods. In many cases, this
technology might be "the"
The automatic measurement and use of
the relevance method has a strong contextual effect (the main elements
are accurately understood) and reduces the processing effort: the
greater the contextual effect, the less will be the necessary effort to
comprehend and assimilate information; the greater the information relevance,
will be processed in a more productive way,
The metaphor that assists this method
is that of the railway nodes.
The paradox is that a concept considered fundamental by the author
(from the cognitive point of view) might not be recognized as such (which
means that something lacks in the map). The automatic relevance analysis result is an important indicator for
the map author, who this way is able to control the map contents and
organization. For the teacher/professor, for the researcher and for the
student (a child in the classroom or an adult as a distance learner) it
is a powerful resource for learning and research, that pushes the learning
technology standards ahead.
All the theories and
demonstrations..., when the only thing we must do is