Concept mapping and student success in a college-level environmental studies course
Bernstein, Jennifer Moore
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Concept mapping is an educational tool that is used to facilitate and demonstrate student comprehension through the use of a visual medium. Because it provides a non-linear, multidimensional way of exploring a topic it is especially appropriate for use in environmental studies courses, where individuals, institutions, and ecosystems interrelate in complex ways. This project looked at the effect of using concept mapping as a reflective and constructive exercise in an environmental analysis course at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. A sub-question was whether or not characteristics of certain students, such as "learning style" and background proficiency with the subject matter would affect the degree to which concept mapping proved helpful. Students created bi-weekly concept maps to review lessons, reflect on their growth throughout the course, and present the findings of their final group research projects. A sub-group of students completed a questionnaire after each concept mapping exercise, which asked them the degree to which the exercise helped facilitate the educational goals of the course. Overall, concept mapping proved helpful and moderately challenging to the students. In general, demographics, learning style, and other variables did not predict success with concept mapping or success with the course. One notable exception was that the students who felt more challenged by the concept mapping exercises ultimately did better in the course overall. This indicates that for engaged students, concept mapping has the potential to keep them at the optimal level of intellectual discomfort that ultimately fosters deep learning.