Concept mapping is a way to link ideas and concepts in a visual and easy to follow way. Yesterday, I participated in a workshop held at the McGill Library that was all about using this method to organize and visualize ideas. So why would a graduate student want to spend part of their day learning about concept mapping? Aside from adding another bit of non-standard software to my computer, concept mapping seems to be a useful way of connecting ideas; be that as part of a research project, a course curriculum, or even a way of collaborating with others.
At the most basic level, concept maps consist of two ideas linked by an arrow labeled with words or phrases that connect the two ideas in a meaningful way. The example given in the session was (pie) –is–> (good). Voilà, a concept map! Yes, this is really a technique that can be used for just about anything. Several ideas can be linked using linking phrases, and gradually built into a map of concepts, which can help to to clarify concepts, and more interestingly, highlight areas where connections could be made.
Not only does this seem to be a great way to organize ideas about a research project, but would also be a great way to improve teaching and learning outcomes. This method is apparently offered in sessions geared toward instructors at McGill as a way of helping to redesign curriculums, but it would also be a useful way for students to understand what they are learning. This would be particularly useful in the sciences, where students are often bombarded with many disparate bits of information, but are not necessarily able to tie them together in a meaningful way.
The workshop consisted of an overview of the ideas of concept mapping, demonstrations of different ways that concept maps could and have been used in teaching, research and collaborative contexts, and then gave participants the opportunity to use the Cmap tools software (free) to build our own concept maps. Within about an hour and a half, all of the students in the session were building concept maps of their own, and using them to represent their own projects.
Apart from being a great way to gain a better understanding of the different components of your own research, this seems like it would be a great way to present your work to others in an easy to follow way, be they colleagues, supervisors, other researchers, or even members of the public. Concept maps can be saved on the IHMC Cmap servers to produce maps that are accessible online, making them easy to add to a website. The session made use of this feature and provided participants with a concept map outline of the course!
This workshop will be offered again in May, so if this sounds like something you may be interested in learning more about, sign up here. This is but one of many offered by the McGill Library and other university-based groups – definitely worth checking out what else is on offer!