Using concept maps to optimize the composition of collaborative student groups: a pilot study


  • Ian Kinchin BSc MPhil PhD PGCE CBiol MIBiol,

  • David Hay BSc DPhil AKC

Ian Kinchin,
King's College London,
James Clerk Maxwell Building,
57 Waterloo Road,
London SE1 8WA,


Aim.  The aim of this paper is to stimulate interest in the practical classroom application of concept mapping strategies as an approach that teachers can easily use to enhance collaborative learning.

Background.  Concept mapping has been developed as a tool to support meaningful learning. However, much of the research literature fails to explain how concept maps might be most gainfully employed within the classroom. As a result, concept mapping is a tool that is under-used.

Methods.  Students on a postgraduate teacher preparation programme for nurses were arranged in triads on the basis of the morphology of individually-produced concept maps for the topics of ‘genetics’ and ‘pathogenic microbes’. They were arranged in heterogeneous triads to produce a consensus map for ‘pathogenic microbes’, and then in homogeneous triads to produce a consensus map for ‘genetics’. The number of acceptable propositions found in their individual maps was compared with the number found in the consensus group maps, and gain scores were calculated for each participant.

Findings.  Participants arranged in triads of individuals having very different knowledge structures were found to make a greater improvement than those arranged in triads composed of individuals with qualitatively similar knowledge structures.

Conclusions.  The study was undertaken with a very small sample and only looked at two topic areas. However, the findings support the idea that collaborative groups work most effectively when individuals within the group bring different perspectives to a problem, and that this perspective can be usefully identified within the classroom environment as variations in concept map morphology.