R. Hanewald

Deakin University (AUSTRALIA)
This paper reports on the use of e-concept mapping in a Science Communication unit in an Australian university during 2011. Undergraduate students worked together in small groups to construct an electronic concept map on a science topic of their choice. The topics were drawn from the natural sciences, covering astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics and the earth sciences. Student created concept maps in small group of usually three or four using C-map Tools with titles such as “Alzheimers disease”, “Personality disorder”, “Designer babies”, “Nuclear power” and so on.

C-map Tool is an online concept mapping tool that allows synchronous and asynchronous collaboration on key ideas and their inter-relationships to produce a graphical arrangement. There is an auditory function for voice recordings of short comments or explanations. Images, multimedia or video files can be added to further illustrate concepts. Editing or chatting in real time, searching on the web for related information, writing of posts, notes or comments and the adding of new strand in the discussion forum are other options. By choosing key words and connecting them with linking words knowledge and conceptual understanding are captured in a map, which shows complex concepts ‘at a glance’.

Since online concept mapping is a relatively new technology, the objectives of the research were to explore its use for teaching and learning, particularly the development of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOS). These are generic skills such as working autonomous within a team, independent and critical thinking, research skills and communication skills, which are all required for life-long learning and underpin the development of content knowledge and subject specific understandings.

Data collection instruments such as surveys, interviews and electronic concepts maps were gathered
from 93 students (out of 118 total enrolments) by an independent researcher. The paper-based survey consisted of eight multiple choice questions and 5-point Likert scales, the individual in-depth interviews used open ended questions and the concept maps were collected at their first draft and final version stage to allow for evaluation of the progression in conceptual understanding.

The findings indicate that the students’ experience in using the e-concept mapping tool was mostly positive and that they believed that it helped them develop a range of HOS such as: critical analysis, problem solving and creative thinking; identifying, gathering, evaluating and using information; communicating effectively and appropriately in a range of contexts; developing, planning and managing independent work; working effectively as part of a team, effectively using information and communication technologies, and applying knowledge learned in the program to new situations.
Without a doubt, the development of HOS in undergraduates is pertinent across all disciplines. It is anticipated that this study provides insights for the use of online concept mapping in the teaching and learning of other fields within Higher Education settings.