This is the second of this tutorial series, which focuses on the application of specific tools and techniques used by IT professionals. See longer introduction here. Concept Maps fit neatly into the first type of tool usage:
[to gain] … Improved understanding of a problem or solution, possibly via a model or representation of the domain of interest
The what and the how of Concept Mapping
I first came across Concept Maps at a conference – see this post highlights #3. Although I have been analysing and modelling data for a long time, this was new to me, as a more informal way to understand and link concepts, clarify meanings, and create a map of domain-specific knowledge.
I have used a LucidChart free licence to draw and export the examples maps below.
From LucidChart, paraphrased, concept maps/diagrams;
… represent knowledge and can help to visualise relationships between various ideas and terms to test understanding of complex subjects.
The notation is deliberately simple, typically labelled boxes or ovals for each concept and connections between the nodes, both in natural language. The linking lines can have arrows to show the direction in which the association can be read. For example, from the sample map below, ‘IT elements contains Operations’ and ‘Agile is a philosophy for software Development’. That’s it in it’s simplest form, there is no more jargon or complicated rules. The very act of capturing and understanding concepts and associations provides the learning and a static model to be shared and revised, as necessary. Below is a little exercise I did to link a few topics from the table of IT elements as you. As I expected there are many and various ways to navigate around the model, and I also added a new element Developers and borrowed Rationale from the golden group for some added colour.
What concept maps are not
A thing is what it is …. and not something else – Robert Parker, Taming a Sea Horse
Concept mapping is not mind mapping in that it doesn’t (necessarily) have a single central concept or theme. More importantly it doesn’t lend itself to the creative use of colours, icons, and different line thicknesses radiating out from the centre.
Concept mapping is not data modelling in that it is not intended as a complete model of the domain nor is it as rigorous. You can mix and match terms that are not of the same type, i.e. heterogeneous – see the second example below. Also, data analysis and logical data modelling normally has some other purpose in mind, such as designing a physical database solution, drilling down into more detail, i.e. specific data items within a node (Object/Class/Entity), improving management information (MI) or business reporting etc.
From the BABOK (see below), ‘Concept Models are not intended to unify, codify, and simplify data.’
Different perspectives from educators and Business Analysts
The Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (‘BABOK’) has a more formal definition of a Concept Model to,
… organise business vocabulary needed to consistently and thoroughly communicate the knowledge of the domain.
It recommends starting with a glossary, i.e. not a blank piece of paper, and focus on core noun concepts (the nodes) and verb concepts (the connections). It also suggests that other types of connection can be used to help to categorise and classify information, also to recognise whole/part relationships etc. – this is beyond the scope of this introductory guide.
I have assumed in the above that someone facilitates the creation of a Concept Map with other domain experts and interested parties (stakeholders) as a shared resource. for example in an information-rich business environment. However, this interesting article promotes concept maps as an education tool and learning aid, “learning is meaningful when the student comprehends the relationship of what is being learned to other knowledge”
As a bit of fun as another example I have tried to map a few terms related to Brexit – although there is a lot more I could add about treaties, trade and other agreements, membership status etc. This illustrates a few things for me;
- It is better to work with a subject matter expert or group to discuss and shape the map
- The notation works for a more fluid abstract topic, i.e. a mixture of nouns and proper nouns, single or plural terms etc.
- Some other document, for example in a glossary, is needed to hold supporting material, descriptions, rules, lists etc.
If you have any questions or comments about Concept Maps or this series as a whole, please email the Lab at the IT elementary school.
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