Concept mapping in the newspapers

Following on from a conversation at the CMC Conference in Brazil in September, the question was raised, “if concept maps have been shown to be so powerful, why do we not see them in the media? Why are they not used in newspapers?”.

This set me to wondering about the question. What would a newspaper look like if concept maps were to dominate? The mock up below gives an idea:


PDF version of newspaper front page: Cmap newspapers final

There seem to be a number of possible factors to explain the absence of c-maps on the newsstands, including:

  • Concept maps require effort if the reader is to get anything meaningful from them. So do newspaper readers want to make effort or do they just want to be told what’s what?
  • Because you have to visit and revisit the concepts in a map to get the most out of it, perhaps it does not pack the punch of a short, snappy headline.
  • If concept maps require effort to write them, it may not fit with the copy deadlines of a daily paper. Journalists have to produce copy quickly without the time to refine and adjust that would be needed to produce excellent maps.
  • Appreciation of a map requires some degree of visual literacy and maybe the general public do not possess this skill? Maybe years of linearity have programmed people to look at information in this way. Though there’s a rumour among the young that it’s only old people who read off (analogue) paper anyway.

So perhaps there are good reasons why you shouldn’t expect to see concept maps in the daily paper. But what about more thoughtful and long-lived journalism and academic writing? When writing a reflective review of a long term news story, wouldn’t a concept map be helpful there in relating numerous complex ideas? Tensions in the middle-east; the credit crunch; the threat of Ebola. These are conversations that have a much longer shelf life and will be written about in numerous magazines and journals over a long period. Yet still we don’t commonly see concept maps in these publications. Why do academic journals not accept concept maps as abstracts? Indeed, why don’t Concept Mapping Conferences demand submission of a concept map instead of a written abstract?

Just as concept maps do not always provide the expected gains when introduced without thought or planning in educational programmes (because they are not aligned with assessment methods or because they jar with expectations)*, perhaps they cannot simply be dropped into the mix and be expected to work in the newspaper/media environment.

But……..perhaps it’s just a conspiracy to keep powerful knowledge out of the hands of the masses?

It might be an interesting exercise for a class of students to undertake: produce a concept map to summarise an academic paper and produce a parallel map of an article from a newspaper on a related topic. Does the structure of the map give an indication of the origins of the text? Indeed, does the text from a web page give rise to a different sort of concept map compared with the text from a journal or book? If anyone tries this, please let me know the outcome.

*Further reading

Bentley, F.J.B., Kennedy, S. and Semsar, K. (2011) How not to lose your students with concept maps. Journal of College Science Teaching, 41(1): 61 – 68.




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