Within the e-learning context, the importance of developing concept maps—and, therefore, of developing software tools that support their design and utilization phases—clearly derives from their connection with the theme of the ontological structure of knowledge, which is founded on graph theory and which determines, according to rules defined by Joseph Novak (Novak & Gowin 1984), the node elements and the relationships with the arcs. However, concept maps cannot be described simply as a product of the evolution of the concept of content indexing, since their role encompasses not only the organizational function of knowing but also the vehiculatory function, assuming that there is a specific clarificatory task within the cognitive context that is different from, and additional to, the navigational support. Research into concept maps takes its cue from the world of education (Novak, 1998), in which their significance is clearly recognized. On the one hand, the characteristic representation of the tissue of relationships that links the concepts together constitutes an extremely interesting expressive approach in terms of its capacity to focus attention of learners, whereas on the other hand—and mainly within the framework of constructivist didactics—the environments used for the ontological mapping of disciplines can be deployed as a locus for collaboration in exploring the cognitive and negotiative context. Both of these aspects are further promoted by e-learning (Canas, Hill, & Lott, 2003; Canas, Hill, Carff, Suri, Lott, & Eskridge, 2004), which uses concept maps not only in the representation of knowledge within a range of structural Learning Object models (Information Maps, Generative Learning, Workflow-based Learning) but also in the indexing of communication flows (Barabasi, 2004), and within interactive environments geared towards the collaborative construction of knowledge.
Maps As Dynamic Documents
Concept maps, then, are used to represent cognitive structures in order to support the management of knowledge that is particularly significant in terms of the communicative and educational potential of its content (and also to explore and exploit that content collaboratively), but in order to optimize its communicative effectiveness and efficiency (Tamayo, 2004) it is necessary to use software tools that allow for its automatic reconstruction/updating and also permit visualization from multiple points of view through the application of rigorous, automatable, graphic representation algorithms (Kremer, 1994), that can take the place of the onerous task of manual design using graphic tools. Concept maps reconstructed using automated procedures are, therefore, dynamic (Tillman & Wissmann, 2004), meaning that they are part of a far larger set of “dynamic documents”, which are documents produced in real-time at the user’s request and which introduce information extracted from databases within formatted templates (most Websites include dynamic documents generated using various technologies—search engines being among the most common examples of dynamic content).
It is the sheer complexity and centrality of the representational aspect within the context of knowledge management that requires the use of tools which can graphically reconstruct concept maps through automated actions that based on the information contained in the Knowledge Management support databases (and, therefore, in large part, by the organization’s Data Warehouse) and using online technologies are able to reproduce the schema of elements and relations in any situation in which this function is necessary, without recourse to manual operations (Pedroni, 2005).
Proximal development in concentric circles graph
Key Terms in this Chapter
Data Warehouse: A set of archiving systems for company data in digital format, notable for its capacity to store historical data relating to the organisation’s activities (production, marketing, administration) and to make them available for querying for statistical or decision-making purposes (driven by the decision support system software). The presence of a data warehouse within the organization is a fundamental condition for implementing knowledge management practices.
Dynamic Document: A document characterized by its nonpermanent status, that is, it is not intended to carry out archiving functions but simply to communicate information to the requestor. It is necessarily a digital document, in that it is generated by automated software that collects the information from a database and then inserts it into a preset template. Many online documents (including search engine pages) are, in this sense, dynamic.
Concept Maps: A method of document production defined by J. Novak in the second half of the 20th century and based on the expression of assertions. These assertions are transformed into constructions of the entity/relation type, in a graphical form that recalls graph theory, in which the nodes are the concept elements (grammatically, nouns, and adjectives), the arcs are the relations (grammatically, verbs, and adverbs), and both graphical symbols are always accompanied by a label that displays their contents.