Using Concept Mapping to Improve the Quality of Learning

Using Concept Mapping to Improve the Quality of Learning

Maria Luisa Pérez Cabaní, Josep Juandó Bosch
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-992-2.ch016
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The European Higher Education Area, created to contribute to the development of quality education and encourage cooperation between Member States of the European Union, has created an opportunity for reflection on teaching methods in universities. These circumstances provide momentum for the use of learning strategies. Along these lines, this chapter presents work done on concept mapping, one of the methods that could significantly help prepare both students and teachers for the new roles expected of them. The results of two lines of study are presented: on the one hand, research that analyses the influence of the differential use of concept maps on the quality of learning; and on the other, an innovation in the use of concept maps in a course developed in the area of initial teacher training. Both initiatives serve to highlight increased interest in concept mapping in the field of learning and especially in collaborative learning.
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The European Higher Education Area was created to contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States through a wide range of actions: promoting the mobility of teachers and students, designing joint study programmes, facilitating recognition of studies abroad, establishing networks, exchanging information and promoting lifelong learning for all citizens of the Union. A specific, quality-related goal within this framework is incorporating in-depth reflection on university teaching practices.

Such a task is not as simple as it sounds. Even though it is widely acknowledged that reflection on teaching methods is a good way to assure continuous improvement, it is no less true that every professional creates his or her own working methods which, once they have reached a stable and sustainable balance and are perceived as comfortable and satisfactory by the subject, acquire an inertia and solidity that make them particularly resistant to change.

University teaching staff are not immune to this phenomenon. When somebody finds themselves, with greater or lesser motivation, teaching classes at a university, they create their own teaching methods, often based on intuition or on their own prior experience as a student, and, once these methods have been consolidated, it is not easy to place them under scrutiny. Only a broad perspective on the part of the teaching staff, accompanied by an expressed willingness to consider ways of improvement, can break the vicious circle represented in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Vicious circle representing the consolidation of procedures


The proposal to think about teaching, from the planning process to the evaluation of learning (including its development), from the point of view of competence, obliges university teachers to enter into a process of reflection. It is not necessary to raise the issue of the quality of the teaching methods that each university, each faculty and each teacher consider to be their own; it is a matter of seeing to what extent these fit in with the new teaching needs arising out of a focus on skills.

One way of defining the teaching function of a university in this new context is by focusing on student aims: the acquisition of particular skills through the performance of learning activities related to certain contents. We consider this to be a correct interpretation of the spirit of the so-called Bologna Process, which aims to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, when students will be able to choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses. Certain elements of teaching, although not new, take on greater significance: self-monitoring of learning on the part of the student and collaboration between students to facilitate collaborative learning as well as between teachers (the work of teaching skills necessarily supposes sharing aims and therefore teaching strategies).

At this moment it is especially opportune to take a deeper look at everything related to learning processes and strategies, collaborative work, regulation and self-regulation mechanisms and reflective processes for knowledge construction. It is necessary to invest in courses of action that will develop these processes and mechanisms, through research and innovation, in order to provide the teaching community with instruments that will facilitate a better adaptation of teaching methods to emerging needs.

Reflection on practice, which would be very useful for teachers and knowledge of new teaching methods, must be the motors driving this professional renewal.

We adhere to the current consensus among researchers in the field of learning strategies regarding some of the questions guiding research.

Firstly, it has become clear that, in order to learn the contents to which the construction activity is applied, the teaching-learning process consists of the student’s activity together with the guidance and advice offered by the teacher during this activity. Intervention focused on improvement and innovation will have to take these parameters into account.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Assessment: Learning results cannot be converted directly into learning achieved; rather, they must be analyzed in terms of whether skills have been achieved. The temporal dimension of the assessment snapshots of different moments and its progression have to be taken into account, forming different types of demands that provide complementary information. Students, through the assessment process, must be able to transform the information into knowledge, that is, endow it with meaning in order to understand it.

Students Learning: From a constructivist conception, the activity of the student is a basic basis of learning. The Bologna Process specifies some important aspects of this activity: the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) specifies the number of hours students must dedicate to all their different activities, with and without a teacher. Emphasis is also placed on the importance of student participation in the processes of change, on lifelong learning and on mobility and exchanges as fundamental to this process.

Approaches to Learning: The learning approach refers to learning from the perspective of the student. Research developed over the last twenty years, and the controversies caused at particular moments, have led to current conception. The most recent work (see Pérez Cabaní, 2001) defines learning approaches as the purposes that guide student activity in a complex process, which includes at the same time consistency (typical actions that guide the way students act in similar tasks and contexts) and variability (as a consequence of the great influence of the specific characteristics of each situation). This concept is closely related to the learning strategy.

Teaching Methods: If we conceptualize teaching and learning as an interactive process, the teaching methods used will have a decisive influence on student learning. In order that students learn to learn, teachers must learn how to teach for them to learn. And if students cannot be replaced in the learning process, neither can teachers be substituted in their teaching function.

Improvement: The changes proposed as part of the adaptation of European university studies to the Bologna Process imply not only a modification of the structure or duration of the studies but also a change in methodology, in culture and in the meaning of teaching and learning. The processes of change, in which the entire university community and the society of which it is a part have to participate, must be well planned in order to achieve improved higher education, with better quality and responding to the challenges faced by today’s society.

Learning Strategies: The strategic concept of learning has been defined based on different theoretical models, with emphasis placed on certain of its characteristics, according to the adopted focus. A basic characteristic, widely accepted by the scientific community in current lines of research, is that in order for a learning procedure to really be considered as a strategy, it has to be used in a conscious and intentional way to achieve an objective in a specific situation under particular conditions. The strategic use of the procedures (as well as of the conceptual maps) means activating declarative knowledge (knowing what), procedural knowledge (knowing how) and conditional knowledge (knowing when and why).

Quality of Learning: This refers to the knowledge generated as a process of social construction in two ways: the construction process, by means of shared understanding and working together, and the results that emerge from the process.

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