Getting The HOTS from Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is really designed for the promotion of meaningful learning rather than supporting rote memorisation. It therefore follows that concept mapping is the ideal tool to support the development of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). Hence,

HOTS from Concept Mapping.

Considering the upper half of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Creating; Evaluating; Synthesising) one can see that these ideas play to the strengths of the concept mapping tool. It does, therefore, seem quite odd that concept maps are now quite common place in primary and even some secondary education, but still feel like they are on the margins of higher education.

The application of concept mapping is particularly suited to the later phases of higher education where students should be working at the tip of Bloom’s Taxonomy – being involved in the evaluation, synthesis and creation of knowledge rather than in the recall of facts. The concept map is also an excellent tool for research, where academics have to explore uncharted areas at the edge of our disciplinary knowledge, and to make their findings understandable to others – sometimes to “others” (such as funding bodies, the general public or government) who lie outside of their own disciplinary tribe.

Does this have anything to do with universities acting as centres for non-learning as described by Kinchin, Lygo-baker and Hay (2008)? Do we really want to know what our students think, or do we just want them to pass the exam and move on? It calls for some real fundamental questions about the purpose of higher education.

Some colleagues seem to think that because a concept map is a summary of understanding that can be edited down to fit on a single side of paper, it must somehow represent a “dumbing down” of the discipline. This “dumbing down” phrase seems to be the call used by those who have no interest in student learning or in understanding the pedagogy of their discipline. A case of them “seeing the splinter on a other’s eye, whilst ignoring the plank in their own”.

However, the ability to identify the key points in an issue or to summarise complex ideas are not skills that are trivial. In order to summarise things this way as a concept map, you really need to understand the content and know how ideas are linked. You also need to identify content that is not critical – again a skill that sometimes eludes students that are from the age of Wikipedia and Google, where content is abundant.

However, it takes effort to produce an excellent concept map of a topic, and it leaves nowhere for you to hide or to ‘hedge your bets’ as you can when writing in prose that can be qualified or even contradicted on the following page. I would challenge anyone who is about to produce a Masters Dissertation, or a Doctoral Thesis to summarise their work as a concept map. I think doing this would have two advantages:

1. It will help the author to structure his or her writing to ensure that there is a logical progression through the chapter and that key ideas are linked appropriately.

2. It will help the reader to navigate the material and act as a route map through the work.

Have a go and see if it feels like ‘dumbing down’.


Kinchin, I.M., Lygo-Baker, S. and Hay, D.B. (2008) Universities as centres of non-learning. Studies in Higher Education, 33(1): 89 – 103.


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