Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Rethinking the Use of Concept Maps in Introductory Economics Courses

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Rethinking the Use of Concept Maps in Introductory Economics Courses

Article excerpt


Concept maps are widely used in various educational disciplines to help students develop an understanding of a subject matter. Traditional concept maps show how concepts are related to each other by illustrating the links among multiple concepts. This paper will introduce a modified version of the traditional concept map, which I refer to as a Conceptual Chapter Map. The Conceptual Chapter Map not only shows the links among concepts, but also provides an explanation of each, thereby creating a more efficient learning process.

The idea of graphical concept organization was first proposed by David Ausebel in 1960, and further developed by Joseph Novak in the 1970s. Novak's version of concept organization is what educators now consider a traditional concept map: a tree diagram that shows the links among concepts. Research shows that concept maps significantly improve student learning and allow students to retain newly-obtained information more efficiently when compared to traditional lectures (Horton et al., 1993; Willerman and Macharg 1991). Traditional concept maps make the learning process easier and help students separate the most important information from what is not essential (Ellis, 2001). Concept maps are also used by instructors to promote successful collaborative learning in- and outside the classroom (Budd 2004; Baitz 2009).

Concept maps are widely used in various disciplines such as mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry (Chiou 2008), but are seldom used in economics. By my personal observations, economics instructors are reluctant to use concept maps. This is unfortunate since this teaching tool can help students who are new to economics unravel the complexities of economic concepts.

In introductory economics courses, students develop a fundamental understanding of basic economic principles. It is during these classes that students learn economics "from scratch." Some may become overwhelmed with the amount of new information presented in class, for most topics students have several pages of notes, and it may be difficult for them to see how different concepts are related to each other. Traditional concept maps can help students organize their knowledge by creating a visual representation of how the concepts are linked, and have shown to improve student learning (Jacobs-Lawson & Hershey 2002, Novak & Cañas 2008). Traditional concept maps are most helpful in developing the understanding of links between the concepts. However, on their own, these maps are not sufficient in helping students solve problems, since students have to refer to a text book or lecture notes to find explanations of the concepts being studied. Traditional lectures, on the other hand, provide students with definitions, explanations, and examples, but fail to show how concepts are related to one another. Traditional lectures and traditional concept maps complement each other, but are not very practical when used separately.

Research suggests that students learn better and with less difficulty when all the information they need is provided within a single source (Mayer 2009). The Conceptual Chapter Map as proposed in this paper follows the idea that a single information source benefits student learning. It combines the elements of traditional lecture notes with traditional concept maps, thereby providing students with a simple, visual, and easy-to-follow learning tool.

For example, while a traditional concept map may illustrate that Gross Domestic Product can be either real or nominal, a Conceptual Chapter Map takes this one step further and illustrates, using formulas, that Real GDP is calculated using base-year prices and Nominal GDP is calculated using current prices. The Conceptual Chapter Map shows student not only that there are several ways of calculating GDP, and explains the differences among these approaches. The following figures illustrate the differences between a Conceptual Chapter Map and a traditional concept map, both explaining concepts related to Gross Domestic Product. …

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