Idea networks with Concept Maps

By Derrick Martin, Learning Designer, Monash Education Innovation

Think about your network of friends.  How many know each other?  What is their connection?  Who are friends and who can’t stand each other?

You could probably draw this information out into a network of people, adding comments on the connecting lines about the relationship between people.  Further details could be added by using different types of lines and spacing: red lines might mean the two people hate each other; putting people close to each other if they are close friends; thicker lines represent a personal connection; dotted lines show a work connection.

What we’re creating when we make a network like this is a concept map.  If you found it easy to make a network graph like this, it’s because our brains use compression heuristics to allow large amounts of social information to be stored.  We can leverage this intuitive and natural way to connect complicated ideas and processes visually, so that students can articulate their comprehension.

How could I use concept maps in my classes?

When students create their own concept map of a topic, they are explicitly building and reinforcing their understanding of how the knowledge is connected and what categories or groups of knowledge exists.  They can visually map the interconnectedness of the topics and connect concept maps from one topic to another to build advanced long-term understanding of information.

Ask the students (individually or in groups) in your class to connect the material you cover in a way that makes sense to them.  This can be done on paper, whiteboards, or if you want the whole class to be involved you can use a shared Google Drawing.

Next Steps

When you’re designing your next class activity that requires students to summarise content, make it a concept map exercise!  Contact the Monash Education Innovation team to find out more about resources and help in designing education activities.