Monday, February 04, 2013

Why Concept Maps?

Earlier this year I was introduced to the idea of an online concept map (or an argument map, or a mind map).  These have been around for a long time, especially in technologically-unrefined media like pen and paper.  I've often drawn series of circles, lines, and bubbles to show relationships between ideas as I work through the various stages of writing essays.  Now, there are several free, cloud-based programs that allow you to map out ideas and embed information, videos, pictures, and graphics.  Some of the best are Mindmeister, View Your Mind, and even Prezi.  These programs provide students with visually-attractive ways of interpreting information and presenting the evidence they find when doing research.  When you design a concept map, you can create bubbles, images, notes, and lines to show relationships.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Why are concept maps useful?  By nature of their spatial design, concept maps allow students to grapple with complex ideas and suggest possibilities, particularly when they are thinking about social phenomena that are hard to sort out.  Here at Montevallo, Deborah Lowry has already used concept maps in SOC 240 Social Problems to help her students present information about complex issues.  Her main contention is that many social problems demand a kind of thinking that encourages us to ask questions and make connections between disparate realities rather than to provide easy answers and make broad claims.

The map above (click here to access) comes from another class, Donna Bell's FCS 254 section on International Retailing.  Students in that class are asked to identify a country and literally map out a range of questions about it, including basic demographics, trade agreements, major industries, and other market influences.  The goal is for students to become informed about all elements of the retail production process in textiles industries.

I developed this map on Thailand, and I started to learn about some of the trade agreements and lobby groups that influence trade in the textiles industry, particularly athletics apparel and footwear.  I discovered that thousands of workers in Thailand are Burmese immigrants who have no standing and little protection from exploitation and police brutality in Thailand.  I learned from a report generated by the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America in 2004 that factory labor in Thailand only costs manufacturers 68 cents per hour.  I also saw that the same organization lobbied congressional representative Maria Cantwell (WA) to introduce the Affordable Footwear Act of 2011.  The act, which is listed under the "Advocacy" section of the FDRA's homepage, is described as making an intervention in the global retail economy:

With costs continually rising throughout the supply chain, American families are faced with rising taxes on their footwear.  It is time to pass this important legislation on behalf of all footwear consumers and their families.

There's a lot missing from this blurb, of course.  The "rising costs" in the supply chain have little to do with the taxes levied by the United States on foreign trade; instead, these "costs" should be represented as an issue of justice and human rights.  Why should savings be passed on to the U.S. consumer, when millions of workers in Thailand and elsewhere continue to labor for pennies each hour?  And will these savings actually be passed to the consumer at all, or will they be absorbed into the annual earnings of major companies like Nike, JC Penny, Shoe Carnival, Rack Room Shoes, and other participating members of the FDRA?

With this concept map, I was able to visually see how a global capital market works, embed credible information about international trade agreements and labor conditions abroad, and then draw lines to make connections in the cycle of trade.  In short, I learned a lot about retail trade that would potentially help me were I to become a buyer for a major company.

If you'd like to learn more about concept maps and explore the possibility of having your own students work with concept maps, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.  You can also "order" a library instruction session on our website.  I'm convinced that concept maps are a great way to infuse information literacy learning outcomes into a classroom.

1 comment:

Roy Grubb said...

You might have a look at this: Concept maps or mind maps? the choice.
There is a significant difference between them. They are both useful, but in different ways.