Annotated Bibliography Entries

Novak, J.D. and Canas, A.J. (2003). The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them. CMAP. Prepared for Chief of Naval Education & Training, Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, July 2003,

When you begin to research concept maps, you can’t help but notice the names Joseph D. Novak and Alberto J. Canas. They come up repeatedly. Novak and Canas are research partners at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (and Novak is also Professor Emeritus at Cornell University) and both seek to understand the value of concept mapping in the construction of new knowledge. Here, I am reviewing their technical report on “The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them” because they provide a wide range of background information that is essential to the design of my study.

Novak’s early research into children’s knowledge of science sparked his professional interest in concept maps generally. His work is firmly rooted in Ausubel’s cognitive psychology of assimilation of new concepts, or cognitive structure. The goal of concept mapping, according to Novak, is to foster meaningful learning.

Concept maps are basically the graphic tools for organizing and representing knowledge, placing concepts (“a perceived regularity in events or objects, or record of events or objects, designated by a label,” p. 1) or propositions (“statements about some object or event in the universe [containing] two or more concepts…to form a meaningful statement,” p. 1) and their relationships to other concepts. These concepts are then placed in hierarchical form, with the most general at the top and the most specific at the base of the map.

Novak and Canas name several key features of a concept map, to include: focus question (a question that organizes the information around a central question), cross-links (these constitute the creative leaps made from one domain to another), and specific examples that help illuminate the concepts.

Cognitive maps are derived from psychological foundations that acknowledge that in addition to discovery (where attributes are discovered autonoumously when children seek patterns) and reception learning (where attributes of concepts are described using language and transferred to the learner) performed by children, meaningful learning happens under three conditions: the material to be learned must be introduced clearly with examples and linked to prior knowledge, the learner must have this prior knowledge, and they must possess the desire to learn. Research into memory plays a role in concept maps, as well. Memory is “a complex set of interrelated systems” (p. 5) wherein new knowledge only becomes long-term memory when our “working memory” (which is limited to only 2-3 concepts at a single time, and interacts with our affective and motor functions) interacts with information already stored in long-term memory.

Novak argues that new knowledge creation is a product of high level and meaningful learning “accomplished by individuals who have a well-organized knowledge structure…and also a strong emotional commitment to persist in finding new meanings” (p. 10). The epistemological foundations of concept mapping

This great analogy is provided by the authors: concepts and propositions are the building blocks of knowledge. Concepts are like atoms, of which there are only roughly 100 different kinds, but these make up an infinite number of molecules. In the same way, there are only ~460,000 words in the English language yet their varied combinations yields an infinite number of new propositions. Concept mapping, therefore, supports this sort of re-organization of concepts in order to form new propositions or new knowledge.

Since I’ll be examining concept maps, it helps to know the psychological and epistemological foundations for mapping tools more generally and to also see what questions have already been answered. At this point, I see that concept mapping has already been defined, has already been tested in connection with memory, but what I seek to find out is if concept mapping (like metaphors) work to re-shape social perceptions of a particular phenomenon—reading.

Allen-Robertson, J. (2015). The materiality of digital media: The hard disk drive, phonograph, magnetic tape and optical media in technical close-up. New Media and Society, Fall 2015.

New Media and Society Journal Cover Image

Allen-Robertson examines the ways that digital media’s affordances (particularly the hard drive, gramophone, magnetic tape and optical media) are a product of the “interplay of both formal and forensic materiality” so as to re-infuse the materialist approach to digital media studies.

Allen-Robertson notes that in previous media, the substrate (underlying substance or material, such as papyrus, stone, CD, cassette tape) has been dominant in the means of constructing a message. An awareness of this substrate as information has moved to digital spaces has been challenged, yet is no less impactful than earlier substrate. To obscure the effect this material nature of digitality has is to revert back to ignoring the considerable ethical consequences of materiality (Carlile et al., 2013) and denies the media its inherent agentic qualities.

Allen-Roberston uses a media archaeology approach to re-situate the materiality of the digital in the lineage of all media. He claims Foucault as a foundation to this work archaeological work (his archaeology of knowledge and the genealogical method), highlighting ‘descent’ as a anarchic conceptual tool for this research. Further, he borrows from German media theory scholars, such as Kittler, the term ‘descent’ to describe his deep dive into the technology itself with a new materialistic point of view. To round out the materialist view, he takes from Hutchby’s (2001) theory of affordances and uses that to craft a “sociomaterial constellation” that recognizes the co-constituent role of material and social on the impact of a technology. He applies these theories to case studies around particular media artifacts.

One exciting feature of Allen-Robertson’s work is that he directly notes the agential possibilities of challenging false dichotomies of subject/object and acknowledge that objects “both shape our activity and influence our opportunities to act” (p. 3). 

Allen-Roberston fits almost squarely into my intended research. He’s asking my question, but adds nuances to the question that I hadn’t considered.

When he examines the hard drive, for example, he deeply describes the material nature of the hard drive disk and proves that what audiences perceive as immaterially digital are actually relying solely on material realities. He notes that “the replicability, speed and density of the digital world are reliant upon the interplay between the forensic and formal materialiities of the devices upon which that code persists” (p. 8).

Allen-Robertson then turns his attention to the gramophone and phonograph—the first devices to record and reproduce sound (of the mid-to-late-1800s). He details the substrate of both devices, ultimately seeking to prove that taking a materialistic analytical point of view shows a far closer relationship between historical devices (gramophone and phonograph) and contemporary devices (the hard disk drive)—e.g., the rotating platter and a read/write head, magnetic tapes added complexity of sound fidelity, and compact discs inscriptions shifting to lasers for precision.

Ultimately, Allen-Robertson proves, through a media archaeological approach to four case studies, that the affordances we perceive in digital media are a product of a complex interplay between forensic (referring to the mechanical operation and the physical substrate of the media) and formal (logical organizational structure that relies on and supports the forensic form) materialities.  His call to action is to continue acknowledging the material realities that “afford and restrict the standards we establish, the practices we develop and the types of information we can store” (p. 10). The false division between physical and digital doesn’t help us to fully appreciate the factors that play into the media that carries our messages.

In fact, to avoid the misleading names we often ascribe to contemporary media, Allen-Robertson more accurately describes our age as “digitally encoded, magnetically inscribed, highly rationalized, addresses, algorithmically approximated, nanoscale media” (p. 10). That may not roll off the tongue so easily, but he’d say it’s at least accurate in its materialistic description of the age we’re in. This more accurate describe may just help us examine the agencies made possible via the power structures engineered by our devices. Finally, since our technologies drive our metaphors for society so powerfully, Allen-Robertson sees this materialistic foundation for the description of media as important for new metaphor construction.

Eppler, Martin J. (2006). A comparison between concept maps, mind maps, conceptual diagrams, and visual metaphors as complementary tools for knowledge construction and sharing. Information Visualization, 5, 202-210.

I’m particularly interested in visual rhetoric beyond the question of argumentation and, consequently, sources that illustrate the ways we use the visual to organize our concepts of the world, to build new knowledge, and more narrowly how we use visualization in order to read the world around us. The graphic construction and reconstruction of knowledge, I believe, has a far more powerful and often invisible effect on the way we understand and navigate our lives.

Eppler’s “A comparison between concept maps, mind maps, conceptual diagrams, and visual metaphors…” doesn’t take his discussion quite so theoretically, but it’s a good starting point and one that is pedagogically grounded (which I thought other teachers and students might appreciate).

Eppler is interested in comparing the advantages and disadvantages of various visualization formats. In fact his primary goal is to compare concept mapping, as proposed by Novak, to other types of qualitative visualization formats, such as mind maps, conceptual diagrams and visual metaphors. In fact, he helps me understand a much wider variety of mapping, to include things like flow charts and semantic networks and swim line diagrams, all methods that relate items to other items using some kind of explicit and sequential set of rules (204). There are even maps that do not make use of the node-link paradigm, such as Venn diagrams or radar charts or knowledge cartographies or tree maps– all of which focus on a big picture or an overall structure.

Eppler also makes room to note the drawbacks of concept maps, namely for a particular groups like non-academics or for particular tasks like procedural skills or particular applications such as quick note-taking or even topics like those that slowly develop over time. Further, the top-down structure of a concept map is not always adequate to represent certain content (202).

In this comparative study of four major types of visualization tools, Eppler finds that concept maps and mind maps are good for personal learning and individual solutions while conceptual diagrams and visual metaphors are good for knowledge communication and knowledge construction that happens within a community (205). Because these varied modes of visual information serve different functions, Eppler goes on to explore the complementary use of these four visualization formats in what he believes is the most appropriate didactic mode. He explains how each visualization mode might best be used in his class:

Following this reasoning, mind maps would best be used for in-class, personal note taking, while concept maps should be used at home for review purpose…Conceptual diagrams can be used to develop concepts in class, while visual metaphors are a good way of summarizing them at the end of the class jointly with a greater level of detail.

What Eppler found, after applying this complementary approach to mapping, is that the students were more engaged and more attentive in class as a result this pedagogical approach. Ultimately, Eppler is arguing for a complementary use of these varied formats of visualizing information. It is the combination of these varied visualization strategies, he claims, that offer a richer approach to visualizing knowledge.