09 April 2010

Knowledge Mapping – Mapping in Action

     Sometimes in order to easier/better understand a text, be it a chapter from a book or an article, online or offline source, I prefer to highlight the most meaningful concepts (the primary concepts) related to the topic(s) the text is approaching, and bring the concepts together in a digital knowledge map. It depends on the text material, sometimes when the subject is too vast and too many concepts are introduced, I prefer to consider the concepts and the relations between them, while other times, when the author tries to treat a topic from various angles I prefer to use techniques like 5W1H and its variations, typically trying to answer to the following questions: who, what, why, where, when, how, in what way and by what means. In between the identified concepts it might happen to add other concepts that come into my mind or combine two or more sources on the same topic. Thus it happens to arrive to a map like the below one, draw using CMapTools and based initially on an article on Project Management written by C. Roan. The map isn’t by far perfect, this being just its current state, in time following to add more concepts as I get deeper in the subject or new associations are triggered.

Project Management Communication
     The labels I used to represent the concepts might not be the same as the ones used in the source, mainly because I prefer to use the labels that allow me trigger easier memories, sometimes trying to identify a concept that could replace or stand for a whole sentence. The target is actually to find the concept with the smallest unit of meaning that reflects what is said in the text from my perception. I even might choose to represent concepts that have similar meaning, or general and particular meaning with respect to the same scale of meaning, for example the “email” and “voicemail” could be regarded as a “messaging system” but given its importance I feel they need to be shown separately; actually I could have grouped the “email” and “voicemail” as a subgroup of “messaging system”, as I did in case of the “project drivers” case, and usually I prefer to do that, though it depends also on map’s focus, on whether I intent to highlight only the primary concepts or to built the whole range of associations. In theory there should be a methodology for creating such maps, actually almost each type of map used (e.g. Concept Maps, Mind Maps) come with their own philosophies/methodologies, though the human nature in general and the learning process in particular should not be necessarily bound by that, being important to have the flexibility of representing concepts with the labels we consider as appropriate, alternate representation techniques or unit of meaning.

     Once the map is built it helps to read again the text but this time from the perspective of the map, most probably that this step would help you to find new meaning, conceptual differences and approaches, helping to ground the new knowledge. Each time I’m reviewing such a map, I remember sections from the text, associations, how I arrived to the given associations, in the end each concept in the map is telling a story of its own. In parallel with the source texts and their associated maps, is built also an alternative map, the itinerary and evolution of acquired knowledge and its implication with respect to further knowledge acquisition, retention, retrieval or reuse. In addition this process helps to make the hidden existing knowledge explicit, to ground knowledge into existing structures and derive new meaning and possible areas of exploration.

     Each concept from such a map could be taken separately and create a similar map for it, eventually create a map for each of the concepts from the respective maps, and repeat the process over and over again, this allowing to built the whole picture. That’s quite an endeavor, isn’t it? Many of such maps will have common concepts or when put together there could be added other associations. Putting all these maps together is not an easy task, and I feel that more has to be done from this perspective, because are needed powerful tools that allow users to represent knowledge in various forms and patterns, navigate inside of a map or between maps, share the map with others, collaborate, do comparisons and assessments, validate input from a semantical point of view because multiple labels (e.g. synonym family, acronyms) could be used for the same concepts.

     Such a map could be used to share knowledge, as starting point for other types of explorations, for example the above map could be used to discuss the issues related to communication, each such concepts coming with its own causes, some of them could have even common root causes, so it would be helpful to identify such situations in order to understand the complexity of causation.

   It helps creating such a map also before writing an article, because the map allows identifying the overall coverage of the article, the topics that remain to be approached, the conceptual intersection between the articles. Such a map or text’s projection in such a map could be used as navigation tool for the text, much like book’s indexes but in a hierarchical manner, the association between concepts allowing, at least from my point of view, an easier and better coverage of the text than indexes. Of course, there are still steps to be done in order to directly integrate the text with the built map in order to facilitate text’s navigation, though many of the applications that allow rendering text have built-in search capabilities that could be used by the users to identify the actual location of the concept. On the other side the fact the existence of multiple labels for naming the same concept could raise several problems that could be in theory solved by using powerful semantic search.

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