How can I use concept mapping?

How does it align with the module learning outcomes? Does it assess  skills and knowledge that are key to the discipline?

It can align with learning outcomes which focus on foundational knowledge and understanding of core concepts. It can also be used to assess understanding of connections /relationships between ideas and applications of ideas.

Will it be formative or summative? If summative, how will I give opportunities for practice? When will it occur in the term/module?

If used as summative assessment, it can assess the learners’ understanding of a unit. You could ask students to create a concept map at the beginning of a module or unit as diagnostic assessment. At the end of the module, they create a new concept map of the same knowledge for comparison.  Providing some formative practice can easily be done at any point in the module online or in class.

If used as formative assessment, you can be more creative. You can have students create new concept maps at certain points throughout the module (or add to their existing one from the start of the module) to see how their knowledge is developing.

How will I mark it? Will I grade it? What criteria will I use? How will I give feedback?

You should decide on a focus (e.g. a question) for the concept map to scaffold students. For example, in War Studies, Defence Studies or International Relations, students can create a concept map of causes and impacts of a particular course of action in conflict situations.

Generic college criteria are unlikely to be useful so you can devise new criteria. Jennings (2014) provides an example rubric developed from Novak and Gowin (1984) page 13-14

Ruiz-Primo (2004) page 4 gives a more comprehensive but much more complex example of a framework for assessing concept maps.

Here is a simplified version:


Ensure grading does not stymy creative processes. Try to ensure you separate accuracy of concepts from the way students represent the ideas, because the latter is very subjective.

 What technology can students use to create concept maps?

You can use very low-tech concept maps with paper and post-it notes. Students can also draw them on the board if you are using it as an in-class activity.

However, technology has allowed the creation of concept maps to be much more sophisticated and their permanence aids their use as assessment tools, because you and the students have a record of their work.

CMAP  is free, easy to download and install on a home PC or mobile device (although you may require admin rights to do this on KCL computers). They allow for sharing so students can use peer evaluation or can submit to you. They provide training videos on how to use the software.

Other software that creates concept maps:

  • Prezi;
  • Xmind;
  • Google drawing.

How will I address potential challenges?

Do I need to make any modifications for accessibility/inclusivity? Can I build these into the design?

Consider screen reader software for visually impaired students. You can contact Disability Support for help and advice with this.

Concept mapping as an assessment tool can support or scaffold more diffident students or those on the autism spectrum. Because concept map represents an individual cognitive process, students work alone to create it and only share with their peers only when/if they are comfortable doing so. If you do use it as a collaborative tool, consider giving students some time to work individually before sharing ideas.

Do I need to make any modifications for large cohort sizes?

It may be more time-consuming to grade or give feedback on many individual maps. As stated above, software allows for students to share their maps with each other for peer feedback which you can also monitor online.

Collaborative concept maps can easily be done online using Cmap tools, and can be graded as a group, although considerations need to be taken into account for assessing team and group work (in this resource). Again, using concept maps as formative tools in class reduces logistical issues and can be a way for students to gain almost instant feedback in-class.

How can I introduce it to students?

As with all new assessment methods, ensure students are given a clear idea of what to do. There are many models to be found online with a simple Google search.

If you are assessing their creativity, it is much better to do this formatively, at least at first, as students are more likely to want to take risks in their representations.

Ensure that you distinguish between mind mapping and concept mapping. The former is more used for organisational skills or brainstorming ideas at the first stage of thinking or planning (it can form part of a two-stage assignment). Concept mapping is more formal and depicts learning and understanding of a core piece of knowledge.