Teaching Tip: Student Concept Maps

“If you’re in the presence of a true expert, you will understand everything they say. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, they are not an expert.” – Nido Qubein

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” – Daniel J. Boostin

Concept maps are graphical representations of course material created by students. That is, students are asked to create visual representations of concepts and the relationships among them. Concept maps can be 1) a great way to get students engaged and actively thinking about the content at a deeper level than simple memorization, 2) an opportunity for students to examine the extent of their knowledge and understanding, and 3) a unique assessment technique that allows instructors the opportunity to peer inside students’ minds with regard to how they are organizing and conceptualizing the material.

Concept maps are sometimes generated in class or as homework, by individual students or small groups, as a means of formative feedback (no grade) or as a means of formal summative assessment (for a grade). The potential applications for concept maps are virtually endless, but let’s consider a few examples. In a history class, students might be asked to create a concept map for a major historical event, illustrating how various factors such as laws, economics, cultural movements, etc., related to each other and to the designated event. In a biology class, students might be asked to illustrate how various concepts relate to one another within the biological functioning of a specific organ, organism, plant, or animal. In a psychology course, students might be asked how the components of a theory, such as Freudian psychoanalytic theory, all fit together. And in a literature course, students might be asked to illustrate the various relationships among the characters, circumstances, and themes within a fictional work. How might concept maps be used in your courses?

Here is a brief but useful orientation to using concept maps or mind maps for teaching and learning:

Constructing concept maps requires just a sheet of paper and something with which to write. However, for those looking for a digital format, here is a very basic and simple-to-use online tool for creating concept maps for presentation: It is extremely basic, but that also makes it very quick and easy to use (no downloading or registration). For those who would like to create more elaborate concept maps digitally, here is a free open source software download from Tufts University that is quite sophisticated:

Submitted by:
Michael Wiederman, Ph.D.
Director of Faculty Development
University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville