CONTEXT VISUALIZATION OF EDUCATIONAL COURSES
In a standard higher education course, knowledge is presented in a linear way. A course is usually an ordered series of lectures and a lecture is an ordered series of slides (or whiteboards). The standard approach is claimed by many researchers to be inferior to that of mind mapping or concept mapping. “Through the process of creating and sharing these maps, students garner a depth and breadth of knowledge. As a result, maps provide students with a powerful and collective tool for taking notes in class, preparing for exams, and organizing and sharing complex research” (Douma, Ligierko, 2009).
The use of a mind map helps to emphasize the central topic of a lecture. Mind maps may demonstrate the relation path between each, even smallest, unit of a course and the central topic. On the other hand, mind maps represent a personal view on a subject. If a teacher’s mind map does not correspond to a student’s mind map, the goal of deepening student’s understanding is not achieved.
Concept maps are, as a rule, more objective. They organize knowledge by means of a concept graph (often represented in a hierarchical way) and links (relations) between them. A drawback of concept maps is that they are either too simple to cover the intended ideas, or too complex to be understood by students “on first sight”.
The idea suggested here is that of using context maps in order to visualize knowledge delivered during an educational course. A context map consists of:
a) Set of concepts (not necessarily related to each other)
b) Canvas that visualizes the context of a course
c) Relations between Canvas and each concept – the relation defines why a concept should be placed in a specific location on Canvas.
Suppose a lecture topic is the use of natural language processing tools. The concepts to be discussed are: Machine Learning, Speech Synthesis, Speech Recognition, Face-to-face Dialogue. Canvas may then be covered by a humanoid scull, the relations between Canvas and the concepts being:
- Humanoid Brain – Machine Learning
- Humanoid Lips – Speech Synthesis
- Humanoid Ear – Speech Recognition
- Humanoid Eye – Face-to-Face Dialogue.
A context map may also visualize a series of lectures or the whole course. As an example, Canvas for a course on Software Engineering may represent the life of a software system. Any new topic entered during the course is then strictly related to a location on Canvas corresponding to a moment in software lifetime the topic concerns.
The benefits of using context maps for an educational course are following:
1) Each lecture may start with the view on the whole course and only then dig into the current topic, thus demonstrating the placement of the topic in the course
2) It is possible to visualize relations between concepts introduced at different lectures
3) Any time during a course it is possible to fluently back-track to any point in a past lecture
4) The students may interact with a lecturer in choosing in which direction the lecture should follow prezi (www.prezi.com) is a convenient tool for context mapping. The tool is free of charge for educational purposes if a tool is used on-line. A desktop educational license costs 59 USD per year and allows for off-line usage.
 Douma, M., & G. Ligierko. 2009. Creating online mind maps and concept maps. 25th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. August 4-7, 2009. Madison, Wisconsin