Thursday, February 03, 2011

Concept map? Don't talk to me about concept maps

Recall It's not often these days you hear people talking about under-assessment, but a paper this week in Science has stirred people up (NYT writeup here):

Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt. Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping. Science 20 January 2011 DOI: 10.1126/science.1199327
Educators rely heavily on learning activities that encourage elaborative studying, while activities that require students to practice retrieving and reconstructing knowledge are used less frequently. Here, we show that practicing retrieval produces greater gains in meaningful learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. The advantage of retrieval practice generalized across texts identical to those commonly found in science education. The advantage of retrieval practice was observed with test questions that assessed comprehension and required students to make inferences. The advantage of retrieval practice occurred even when the criterial test involved creating concept maps. Our findings support the theory that retrieval practice enhances learning by retrieval-specific mechanisms rather than by elaborative study processes. Retrieval practice is an effective tool to promote conceptual learning about science.

Most of the secondary reports of this paper I have read have implied that increased testing is the most efficient way of imparting knowledge, but that's not what the paper says. Concept mapping scored badly, as did reading though the material to be tested once, but the top scores came from old fashioned swotting followed by students actively rehashing what they could remember of the material ("free recall tests").

It's an interesting finding, especially for someone like me who abhors mindmaps. The question is, how widely applicable are these results (the paper doesn't actually describe the content the students studied, unhelpfully referring to it as "science"), and should what emphasis should be placed on this study? What do you think?

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