Concept Mapping Validates Fieldwork's Capacity to Deepen Students' Cognitive Linkages of Complex Processes




Allen, Casey D.

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


Concept maps created by introductory physical geography students were analyzed to assess the power of a field index in students learning concepts related to rock decay. Students (n = 571) were randomly selected from introductory physical geography laboratory sessions where 86% had never taken another college-level geography course, 46% had never taken a "lab science" course, and 22% were from minority (non-white) populations. All students, upon completing a straight-forward demographic survey and open-ended questionnaire, undertook a concept mapping exercise after learning about rock decay through direct instruction (i.e., lecture). From this n, 322 students also took part in a hands-on field-based experience involving analyses of rock decay associated with petroglyphs, and then completed another concept map. Concept map scores indicate field experience participants understood form and process connections better after the field experience than after direct instruction, and especially minority students, where the average score increase approached 23%, compared to 11 % in non-minorities. Female students (16% average increase) also scored higher after the field experience compared to male students (11 % average increase). Concept maps were compared to open-ended questionnaires to further establish validity, and after testing for normalcy with Kolmogorov-Smimov, t-tests revealed all score increases to be highly statistically significant (p < 0.001), with minority student score increases compared to non-minority increases yielding a statistical significance (p < 0.01), while learning in females over males yielded a statistical trend (p = 0.067). These findings reveal fieldwork's power to deepen cognitive linkages between complex biophysical processes and the corresponding landscape forms, especially among minority and female students.



geography, field methods, concept mapping, alternative pedagogy, geography education, science education assessment


Allen, C.D. (2011). Concept mapping validates fieldwork's capacity to deepen students' cognitive linkages of complex processes. Research in Geographic Education, 13(2), pp. 30-51.


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