An introduction to Multimodal Concept Mapping: approaches and techniques

Christina Preston


Mapping provides a holistic multimodal means of sharing the relationship of concepts collaboratively on a single screen or page. This piece aims to provide an introduction for practitioners to the general approaches and techniques using mapping concepts in teaching and learning. Firstly the many definitions of ?Ǩconcept?ǨѢ or ?Ǩmind?ǨѢ mapping are outlined in the context of teaching and learning. Multimodality refers to the fact that maps, unlike an essay, do not just use words to convey meaning. In this context, the characteristics of hand-drawn maps are contrasted and compared with the features of digital maps. Secondly the theoretical approaches behind mapping are presented from two informal perspectives: thinking and seeing. In the first section, Novak, Ca?ɬas, Buzan and ?ɂĶhlberg are identified as the main exponents of maps as a means of promoting richer and deeper abstract thinking about key concepts in education. However, although the maps as defined by these academics contain visual elements like nodes, links and arrows, the key mode of communication is still words. The pedagogical approach is basically a constructivist one because the learners are being asked to reproduce accurately concepts that they have been taught.

The second section on mapping theorists concentrates on the work of semioticians such as Kress, Van Leeuwen and Mavers who do not privilege words as the key aspect of maps, and even encourage maps without words. Their approach to pedagogy is rooted within the social and cultural context of the student. The original ideas of the map-makers are valued because they represent the world as they see it, rather than replicating what they have been told. In this approach, where the teachers are also the learners, all the modes of communication take equal weight as signs invested with meaning. These modes might include colour, shape and position. Texture might also have meaning if the map is hand-drawn. In addition, Jewitt?ǨѢs work in multimodal literacy provides further framing in the analysis of dynamic digital maps where multilayering, hyperlinking and the addition of sound and animation files might be significant in the subtleties of meaning they convey.

The third section of this paper focuses on the three common ways in which practitioners analyse the maps; meaning in numbers, meaning in labels, and meaning in signs. Finally, some suggestions are made about the opportunity for innovation in teaching and learning that maps represent in stimulating collaborative thought, identifying higher order concept and in a range of assessment contexts. All the referenced interviews and submissions from the experts were provided exclusively for this piece.

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Editor-in-Chief: Prof Norbert Pachler
UCL Institute of Education, University College London
ISSN 1746-9082