Concept Map

Sample Cases from Dublin Institute of Technology

See some samples cases for this assessment method in the table below or browse the full set of cases in the assessment toolkit.

Assessment MethodLecturerAssociated Programme(s)NFQ LevelYear
Concept Map Barry Ryan BSc Nutraceuticals in Health and Nutrition
BSc Food Innovation
BSc Pharmaceutical Healthcare
Level 8 Year 4

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A network map is a visual representation of concepts (or nodes) connected by labeled linkers (Ruiz-Primo, 2004).


The assessment was an assessment for learning, rather than an assessment of learning. Initially students may be intimidated by the perceived freedom and lack of structure provided as they had become accustomed to didactic teaching, lower order thinking and shallow understanding as part of their assessments. In order to overcome this, it is suggested that students spend time reviewing different network maps that were not related to their course to appreciate network maps. Following on from this, students can generate simple sample network maps based on their current knowledge of a topic chosen at random. These initial in-class activities can give the students the confidence to move forward and work as a group on their own networked learning map. Students quickly appreciated the different learning style required, one where they became researchers and sources of information for the group. Network mapping as part of assessment is composed of two parts; the initial network map and the evaluation of the map (McClure et al, 1999). Informal evaluation of each groups network map was carried out at regular stages of the developmental process, both by the academic and peers. Students in this case study appreciated the chance to view and provide feedback on their peers work. As each group was working on a different and unique topic, peers were willing to offer advice on how to improve maps, to suggest resources and to assist in software training. This echoes Corgan and colleagues (2004) suggestion that peer feedback enhances community spirit within a class whilst simultaneously providing additional learning opportunities.

Brief Literature Review

Network maps have been employed as assessment methodologies for some time as they encourage active learning along with the development of critical thinking and decision-making. Students can assimilate complex knowledge as it is organized and linked in the network map (Noonan, 2011). Students research an area or mind map topic, within the bounded learning space defined by the academic, to construct their network map. Some publications relating to network maps as assessment methodologies cite this approach as simply a visual method for students to present their declarative knowledge; however, following a flipped assessment approach the student is provided with little or no assistance in formulating their declarative knowledge (Ruiz-Primo, 2004; McClure, et al, 1999). The students must socially construct their knowledge, progressing from simple declarative knowledge regurgitation to analysis, knowledge synthesis and ultimately, knowledge evaluation. Furthermore, Dhindsa and co-workers (2010) noted the deeper understanding, improved concept organisation and richer interconnectedness displayed by students that employed constructivist network mapping as a learning tool for complex and abstract science material. Network mapping is not the panacea for all assessments. Some students will struggle with this learning approach and question its usefulness. Perhaps this is a hangover from the traditional approach to teaching and assessment that students have become accustomed to. The flipped assessment approach places an emphasis on enhancing lecturer-student contact time and one of the best ways to achieve this is to ‘flip the classroom’ (Johnson et al., 2012). The flipped classroom focuses class time on student lead discussion and this took place in small groups during this case study. It was important that the lecturer keeps all groups on task during discussion time, particularly if this is the first time students have been exposed to collaborative learning. The majority of the student work is carried out outside class hours; it is important that this research is completed by all members of the group so the group can collaborate and learn from each others research during class discussion time. It is through group and lecturer review and evaluation during class time discussions that learning evolves co-operatively. Some students will struggle initially with both the pedagogy and the tasks. Many students, even strong students, may not have experienced active and co-operative learning. This, in conjunction with a complex curriculum, can result in student frustration as they struggle to find their learning path and deepen their understanding. Analogous to Bruner’s ‘Spiral Curriculum’ (1966) and Meyer and Land’s (2006) ‘Threshold Concept’; students travel many times backwards and forwards over their personal learning terrain, moving further each time into their spiral of deep understanding. Eventually, through this academic and conceptual struggle, and many journeys to and fro-, the student overcomes the overarching concept threshold and releases their understanding within.

Key Papers on the topic

Brinkmann, A. (2003). Graphical knowledge display–Mind mapping and concept mapping as efficient tools in mathematics education. Mathematics Education Review, 16, 35-48.

Buldu. M. & Buldu, N. (2010). Concept mapping as a formative assessment in college classrooms: Measuring usefulness and student satisfaction. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2, 2099–2104.

McClure, J.R., Sonak, B., & Suen, H.K. (1999). Concept Map Assessment of Classroom Learning: Reliability, Validity, and Logistical Practicality. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 475–492.

Novak, J. D. (1990). Concept mapping: A useful tool for science education. Journal of research in science teaching, 27(10), 937-949.

Walker, J. M., & King, P. H. (2003). Concept mapping as a form of student assessment and instruction in the domain of bioengineering. Journal of Engineering Education, 92(2), 167-178.

Potential Methods of Feedback

Students can be provided with feedback at multiple stages during the assessment and after the final submission.

During the assessment:

  1. The student can meet with the academic to discuss their initial ideas for their network map. During this face-to-face meeting the academic provides feedback, but more importantly freedforward; this will assist the student decide which topic to focus their network map on. 
  2. Students can discuss their ideas and issues with other peers, either inside or outside class. This structured, but informal, peer review can take place before final networ map editing so as to allow any suggestions to be taken on board and incorporated into the map. An easy way to encourage the students to take part in peer review is to follow the ‘two stars and a wish’ feedback. Each student must listen to their peers idea(s) and provide two stars (two things they liked abou the idea) and one wish (one thing they think might improve the final production).

After the assessment:

Students could be provided with general feedback from their peers after the presentation of their final network map. If the class size is large, Clickers can be an easy way to poll a large number of students quickly and instantly. Alternatively, a student centred discussion could take place after each student network map presenation. Constructive feedback from peers, and the academic, should provide positive re-enforcement for the students. This group feedback session can be used by the student during a reflective writing follow-up to the assessed network map.


  • Bruner, J.S. (1966). On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand. (pp. 107). Harvard University Press, Massachusetts.
  • Corgan, R., Hammer, V., Margolies, M., & Crossley, C. (2004). Making your online course successful. Business Education Forum, 58(3), 51-53.
  • Dhindsa, S. Kasim M. & Anderson, R. (2010). Constructivist-Visual Mind Map Teaching Approach and the Quality of Students’ Cognitive Structures. Journal of Science Education Technology, 20, 186-200.
  • Jonassen, D.H. (2000). Revisiting activity theory as a framework for designing student-centered learning environments. In D.H. Jonassen & S.M. Land (Eds.), Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments. (pp. 89–121). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Ruiz-Primo, M.A. (2004). Concept Maps: Theory, Methodology, Technology. In A. J. Cañas, J. D. Novak, F. M. González, (Eds.). Proceedings of the First International Conference on Concept Mapping. Pamplona, Spain. 
  • McClure, J.R., Sonak, B., & Suen, H.K. (1999). Concept Map Assessment of Classroom Learning: Reliability, Validity, and Logistical Practicality. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 475–492.
  • Meyer, E. & Land, R. (Eds.) (2006) Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. London: Routledge.
  • Noonan, P. (2011). Using Concept Maps in Perioperative Education. Association of periOperative Registered Nurses Journal, 94, 469-478.

Concept Map Assessment of Classroom Learning: Reliability, Validity, and Logistical Practicality

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