Exploring Semiotic Approaches to Analysing Multidimensional Concept Maps Using Methods that Value Collaboration

Exploring Semiotic Approaches to Analysing Multidimensional Concept Maps Using Methods that Value Collaboration

Christina J. Preston (University of London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-992-2.ch013
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This chapter focuses on teachers’ multidimensional concept mapping data collected at the beginning and end of a one-year Masters level course about e-learning. A multidimensional concept map (MDCM) defines any concept map that is multimodal, multimedia, multilayered and/or multi-authored. The teachers’ personal and professional learning priorities are analysed using two semiotic methods: the first is a traditional analysis of the words used to label the nodes; the second is an innovative analysis method that treats the whole map as a semiotic artefact, in which all the elements, including the words, have equal importance. The findings suggest that these tools offer deep insights into the learning priorities of individuals and groups, especially the affective and motivational factors. The teachers, as co-researchers, also adopted MDCM to underpin collaborative thinking. These research tools can be used in the assessment process to value multimodal literacy and collaborative engagement in new knowledge construction.
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Defining A Multidimensional Map

The terms concept map and mind map are often used interchangeably. In fact, they refer to different methods of mapping and different map-shapes. The term concept map is most often associated with Novak who has worked in this field with other colleagues since the 1980s (Novak and Godwin, 1984; Cañas and Novak, 2007). The Novakian system requires the careful teaching of agreed topics followed by the construction of a prescribed hierarchical map shape by single learners or groups (Figure 1). Ålhberg (2007) is critical of the high levels of prescription and points out some inconsistencies. Nevertheless, in his own work he only reduces the number of rules and clarifies them rather than questioning the prescriptive method.

Figure 1.

A Novak-style hierarchical map


A different map-shape is promoted by Buzan (2002), called a mind map, to refer to maps that radiate from the centre. For Buzan mind maps mirror how the mind works. In contrast to Novak he promotes a free mapping exercise where the map-maker provides the content from professional or personal thinking exercises. However, Buzan’s belief that these mind maps reflect the ways in which the brain works is not supported by the limited research into the topic (Anderson-Inman and Ditson 1999).(see Figure 2)

Figure 2.

A Buzan-style radiant map


So far, much of the research into mapping has continued to follow this pattern of prescriptive teaching leading towards drawing shapes that are agreed in advance. This study, on the other hand, concentrates on the map-makers’ creativity in exploring their own concepts, rather than following instructions from the teacher. This willingness to listen to the learner is a key principle in this alternative approach to mapping associated with the socio-cultural school of semiotics.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social semiotics: The study of the signs that people make in order to communicate and of the sign makers and their motivations.

Community Of Practice: A term associated with Wenger that refers to the ways in which people learn in groups with a common purpose. These groups were first noticed in business. Studies have now extended to education or leisure.

Concept Map: The term is used generically in this paper. It term is often associated with Novak. Novak’s style maps are hierarchical, although they also radiate from a central idea. Buzan ’mind maps’ are designed to radiate from concept placed at the centre of the map.

Content Analysis: Content analysis is a general term for a number of approaches to analysing written or spoken language. In this paper it refers to the analysis of vocabulary.

Practice-based research: A variety of action research that emphasises scholarly approaches to work-based learning

Multimodality: This term refers to meanings made in many representational and communicational modes that include speech, writing, gesture, music, drawing and animation.

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