Short notes on concept mapping

In preparation for a concept mapping assignment I ran during the course of this year, I did some reading on concept mapping, during which I made some short notes. Here they are…

Concept mapping is useful to establish relationships between ideas and has been linked to 30 % improvement in student understanding

Ausubel’s assimilation theory: Meaningful learning involves changing ones current knowledge as a result of the comprehension of new knowledge

Concept: anything that can be named / perceived regularities or patterns

Proposition: an expression of the relationship between concepts

Maps: represents knowledge using diagrams that express concepts and relationships

Linking phrases: without the relations, knowledge would not “cohere”

The most important single factor influencing learning, is what the learner already knows (Ausubel, 1968)

In the process of meaningful learning, people construct meanings for concepts and propositions based on experiences, building up their knowledge structure

Meaningful learning involves changing ones current knowledge as a result of the comprehension of new knowledge

There needs to be:

  • Differentiation of concepts
  • Superordination of concepts under more general, more inclusive concepts
  • Subsumption of new concepts into existing, more general concepts and propositions
  • Integrative reconciliation to achieve coherence and consistency

Drawing a map:

  • Helps the designer understand the problem
  • Is a creative process (new discoveries are made as the map is drawn)
  • Helps establish credibility within the team
  • The map itself offers the first chance to interject the user as a guiding concept for the product

Progressive cognition (3 levels): review at a glance → readable with some attention → deeper, richer understanding can be layered in

Drawing a map:

  1. Identify main concept
  2. List related concepts (don’t worry about organisation, importance, completeness)
  3. Draw a rough map
  4. Interview team members and domain experts
  5. Identify synonyms and instances (remove redundancy, cluster related concepts)
  6. Redraw, redraw, redraw (each time you’ll discover new connections)
  7. Get feedback from the team
  8. Repeat 4-7

Maps can be redrawn and rearranged to highlight different concepts

Choose a dominant position, use a hierarchy, different colours, etc.

Applying theoretical concepts to clinical practice

Concept map about concept mapping taken from IHMC website

I just finished giving feedback to my students on the concept mapping assignment they’re busy with. It’s the first time I’ve used concept mapping in an assignment and in addition to the students’ learning, I’m also  trying to see if it helps me figure out what they really understand about applying the theory we cover in class to clinical contexts. They’re really struggling with what seem to be basic ideas, highlighting the fact that maybe the ideas aren’t so basic after all. I have to remind myself that clinical reasoning is a skill that takes many years to develop through reflection and isn’t really something I can “teach”. Or is it?

For this assignment I wanted the the students to set a learning objective for themselves (I gave examples of how to do this, including using SMART principles of goal setting). They also needed to highlight a particular clinical problem that they wanted to explore and how they would use concepts from the Movement Science module to do this. They needed to describe a clinical scenario / patient presentation and use it to identify the problem they wanted to explore. From that short presentation, they should derive a list of keywords that would become the main concepts for the concept map.

Here’s a list of the most common problems I found after reviewing their initial drafts:

  • Many of them lacked alignment between the patient presentation, the learning objective, keyword / propositions and the final concept map
  • Many of the learning objectives were vague. They really found it hard to design appropriate learning objectives, which meant that their whole assignment was muddled
  • There were two processes going on in the students’ minds: patient management, and their own learning. This assignment was about student learning, but most of the students were focused on patient management. This was especially clear in the learning objective and actual maps they created, which all had a clinical focus on the interventions they would use to treat the patient, rather than the learning concepts they would apply
  • Most of the students created hierarchical maps which failed to identify complex relationships between concepts

After going through their initial drafts, I had another session with them to go through the feedback I’d given and providing more examples of what I expected from them. This assignment is proving far more difficult for the students than I’d expected. However, I’m not sure if it’s because they can’t apply theoretical concepts to clinical scenarios, or if they just don’t have a good understanding of how to create concept maps. I think that they’re having difficulty thinking in terms of relationships between concepts. The maps they’ve been drawing are appropriate in terms of the interventions they’d choose to manage their patients, but the students can’t seem to transfer the concepts from the classroom into clinical contexts.

They’re used to memorising the content because that’s how we assess them i.e. our assessments are knowledge-based. Then they go into clinical contexts and almost have to re-learn the theory again in the clinical environment. There doesn’t seem to be much transfer going on, in terms of moving knowledge from the classroom context to the clinical one. I haven’t researched this yet, but I wonder what sort of graduate we’d get if we scrapped classroom teaching altogether and just did everything on the wards and in the clinics? I understand the logistical issues of an apprentice-based approach to teaching large groups but if we didn’t have classroom time at all, maybe it’d be possible?

Concept mapping assignment in Movement Science

Fora while I’ve been toying with the idea of using concept mapping for an assignment in the Movement Science module that I teach and I finally took the plunge. See below for the assignment I gave the students using CmapTools to explore relationships between the concepts in the module and clinical practice. It’s my first attempt at using concept mapping so would love any suggestions or ideas. Have you used concept maps? How did it work out?

Concept Mapping in a Movement Science physiotherapy module

Introducing the OSPE format to physiotherapy practicals

Schematic for student movement through the stations

Last year at our planning meeting (every year we meet to review the year and to plan for the upcoming one) we committed to conducting all of our practicals from now on in the OSPE format (Objective Structured Practical Examination). This format has the advantages of having all students perform the same assessment tasks, as well as having each student assessed by every examiner. There are other advantages (and disadvantages) but there’s plenty of literature that discusses it more eloquently than I have time to do here.


We’ve been running all of our practical tests in the department using this format since we made the decision last year and after a few bumps, we’re starting to get it right. We now run two tracks in parallel, so that we can see twice the number of students in the same time. We were limited to 5 examiners in our first test. There were some other problems that it took a few tests to sort out:

  • We didn’t always choose appropriate techniques for the time limit at each station e.g. some techniques ended up being completed way sooner than the time allocated, and others were rushed
  • We allotted too much time to move between stations
  • We read the same instructions to every candidate, which wasted time
  • We only realised during the second OSPE that students who were still waiting to take the test still had their cellphones with them

We surveyed the students and staff following the first OSPE and are in the process of reviewing those responses. We knew that we’d get a few things wrong no matter how much we tried and so the survey was an attempt to highlight areas that we wouldn’t necessarily have thought of by ourselves.

We’re going to use Google Docs to collaboratively write up an article based on the student and staff responses, just to highlight the challenges of moving to and running an OSPE in a resource-constrained environment. I’ll follow up this post with the outcome of the article.

If you’ve been through the process of introducing the OSPE format into your assessments, I’d love to hear about the challenges and successes you had.

Teaching a practical Movement Science class

This is the first year that I’ve taught Movement Science (i.e. analysis of movement), which was daunting at first as I wasn’t familiar with it. In addition, the module content was almost entirely in hardcopy, so I’ve been typing away like crazy to get it all into a digital format. The practical component of the module has been both challenging and rewarding. In the past we’d demonstrate a technique or analyse a movement for the students and then ask them to break into small groups and do it for themselves. This year I’ve been trying to do it a little differently.

I begin with a very short lecture identifying the key concepts that will be useful during the practical session. For example, if we’re going to do gait analysis I review the normal gait cycle as well as discuss some of the ways that gait might be compromised in a patient with neurological dysfunction. Then I ask them to do the analysis in small groups but without a demonstration. I explain that I don’t have any expectation that they’ll be able to do it at the appropriate level but that they should try anyway. Each student must do the analysis (otherwise some will passively observe) and each student must model the movement sequence (so that they can all be aware of how movement occurs, as well as demonstrate that each person’s “normal” is actually different).

During the practical I move between the groups, addressing any questions they have and at the same time, getting a feel for their differing levels of understanding. I spend 10-15 minutes with each group, going back to the basic concepts that I presented in the lecture and then using simple movements to do the analysis. Often the students have moved through the different movement sequences quite quickly, having not paid attention to the details and just wanting to “tick off” what they’ve done. When I get to them and we start again, they quickly realise how much they’ve left out.

I’ve found that the students are thinking more deeply about what they’re doing than if I demonstrated a technique at the beginning and asked them to merely copy it. This way, they’re having to figure things out for themselves with only a basic framework to work with. Once they’ve struggled with the analysis for a few minutes, they’ve had the opportunity to work out what they don’t know. Then, when I move around to their group, they not only have several questions but have already tried a few different approaches.

When I’ve worked through all the groups I have an idea of the main concepts that need to be reviewed and elaborated on and can end the session with a practical demonstration highlighting what most of the students were struggling with.

Some of the lessons students leave with, besides the module-specific content:

  • Working the answer out by yourself can be rewarding
  • Trying (and sometimes failing) doesn’t mean that you’re stupid, it’s a valid way to learn
  • Asking questions isn’t a weakness