Concept Maps Discover Digital Repositories: A Look at Tufts VUE
Teaching in a digital environment has brought the traditional hierarchical
classroom structure to the online world. A range of tools has emerged to help
faculty transfer not only their course materials, but also their course structure
for teaching onto the Web. Most course management systems support the uploading
of digital objects of many types into courses and sometimes into shareable libraries
from which course content can be selected. Typically these systems strive to
recreate the structured organization we think about when considering the delivery
of traditional course materials online, and they do this well.
Critical thinking and creative knowledge building requires flexibility and
responsiveness that tends to differ by discipline and pedagogy. One approach
that involves the graphical representation of ideas uses concept mapping to
lay out ideas, processes, and their interconnection around a given problem area.
Concept Maps are graphical representations of knowledge that are comprised of
concepts and the relationships among them. Commercial software such as Inspiration
or Microsoft’s Visio provides integrated diagramming and outlining environments
that can help students comprehend concepts and information. Freely available
Concept Mapping software has been around for some time from the Institute for
Human and Machine Cognition (http://cmap.ihmc.us/index.html). Concept Maps are
often used in reference to some particular question for which we seek an answer,
called a focus question. The Concept Map may pertain to some situation or event
that we are trying to understand through the organization of relevant knowledge.
A significant characteristic of Concept Maps is crosslinks, representing explicit
relationships between or among concepts in different regions or domains within
a Concept Map. In educational settings, Concept Maps are used to:
- Organize instructional materials for individual courses or entire curricula
- Serve as navigational aids for hypermedia
- Scaffold understanding
- Consolidate educational experiences
- Improve affective conditions for learning
- Aid or provide an alternative to traditional writing
- Teach critical thinking
When Concept Maps Become Content Maps
Tufts University has built a new tool, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation, called the Visual Understanding Environment (VUE, http://vue.tccs.tufts.edu/)
for building Concept Maps. Using a highly flexible, visual interface, VUE maps,
structures, and semantically connects electronic content drawn from local file
systems, the Web, or FEDORA-based digital library systems. Unlike the concept
mapping tools described above, VUE g'es beyond creating flat representations
of information and becomes an interactive interface to manipulating the data
VUE is not a replacement for course management systems, but an application
designed to address the activity of structuring and presenting digital materials
and the ideas. The maps created with VUE become another resource within a course
management system or digital repository, literally offering students and instructors
an alternative view of a set of curricular materials. VUE leverages the open
and extensible development platform of the Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) and
the FEDORA digital repository to develop a visual environment for structuring.
Concept Maps engage students as active participants in the structuring of information
into knowledge and meaning. Through establishing personal connections among
materials and/or by adding additional resources to an existing instructional
concept map, students begin to relate new information to pre-existing knowledge.
These concept maps can then be shared with instructors and peers for further
review and discussion. The explicit act of organizing, annotating, and connecting
educational resources via a concept map is a powerful educational exercise.
As valuable as Concept Maps have been, they are relatively static, representing
interrelationships among ideas that, when created using typical software applications,
can at best include URLs to link ideas to Web resources. When concept maps and
the ideas they represent are connected to digital resources themselves—not
just their links—concept maps also become content maps.
VUE extends the power derived from graphical representation of knowledge into
a tool for mapping against and drawing from persistent collections of content
contained within digital libraries. Using OKI’s Digital Repository Open
Source Interface Definition (OSID), among others, VUE allows users to search,
browse, retrieve content from digital repositories, and upload resources into
digital collections. The FEDORA digital repository was used in the initial implementation
of VUE. However, VUE can be used along with other digital repositories such
as DSpace, ArtSTOR, JSTOR, or any repository that implements and exposes an
VUE represents a first step toward bridging traditional boundaries among search
tools, digital repositories, and applications for teaching. Faculty and students
live in a fluid interconnected world where ideas, content that describes them,
and their communication blend together as we gain understanding and meaning
in complex patterns. Tools like VUE are promising indications that we might
be getting closer to understanding how to represent knowledge in ways that are
easy to disseminate and act on in the process of teaching.
What’s a Digital Repository to Do?
VUE and tools similar to it also raise interesting challenges for digital repository
owners or builders. VUE reaches into a repository exposed by a software interface
(like the OKI DR OSID), bringing the bits representing the content into a new
context. It’s important to note that this is done directly, not through
some import/export process. It is done without interrupting the user by forcing
reauthentication—one of the benefits of the Open Knowledge Initiative
approach. Access and permissions are being granted, but behind the scenes, so
the user can focus on the task at hand.
Directly pulling content from digital repositories for other uses can raise
issues about the integrity of the repository, collection management of the bits
therein, and a host of intellectual property questions that often surround the
deposition of content into collections in the first place. For many repositories,
the separation between the raw content and its presentation raises fundamental
questions about what is central about the repository itself. These are important
questions and we need to address them now.
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