Concept Maps in the Trenches

While helping my students work through their essays and presentations, I find myself thinking over and over again, quarter after quarter, semester after semester, how import tools like free writing, drawing, and concept maps are to thinking. However, I find that not all tools are created equal – especially when used in the wild.

I have written a lot about concept maps in this blog in the past. Each year, I take a few moments to revisit digital tools and research into concept maps. I have consistently used a number of software tools: C-Map Tools (a hands-down favorite of mine), Inspiration (a k-12 favorite grand-daddy), Lucid Chart (which I have abused for years by using and re-using my free “three” maps), and, of course, paper and pencil. What is new (for me, anyway) is that I will be working with CMap Cloud – which is a free, online concept map creation and sharing tool. The research that CMap has done not just on the CMap Tools but on concept map applications is impressive and very useful. The research suggests many different ways to use CMap Tools. There are a number of other tools out there for creating concept maps but CMaps is very clear about being a “knowledge modeling kit” which is different than being “fast” or “easy.”

For myself, I think that CMaps is the way to go for large, complex projects – everything from developing a workshop to plotting a novel. When I am sitting in front of a computer or a laptop, it just makes sense. Sometimes when I am out and about, I will begin a concept map in a notebook and wind up expanding it in CMap. I have yet to successfully use concept mapping tools on my phone. Is the screen to small? My fingers too big? I am still experimenting which is exciting because it means that I will be writing about this again at the end of the year or so.

Each one of my “essay” assignments in my Adult Basic Education classes begins with an assignment sheet (where the student develops the topic), a concept map, an outline, a rough draft, a paper, and a presentation. In other words, it is not a paper generating class. It is about teaching a process and exploring how we think and express ourselves. I was sitting down with a student last quarter who had no idea where her thesis statement was going: her topic was overly-broad, too much detail in the first paragraph, and no central focus. I asked her to show me the assignment sheet and the concept map. She said that she thought that concept maps were a waste of time. She wanted to get on with the writing. But we worked through the concept map together and she began to see what it was she wanted to say. The best tool for that job was a pencil and a piece of paper. It was not just a hoop to jump through to get on with the writing – it became a record of a conversation that we had about her topic. That record then becomes a jumping off point for deeper thinking and research later.

I had another student with physical and learning disabilities who could not sit down and use a pencil to make concept maps. He was able to proficiently use a computer and took to creating online concept maps using Lucid Chart. It made a huge difference in his writing and thinking. Or maybe just the ability for him to express his thinking. It was okay that he had attention deficit disorder because he could come back and work on the map at any time. This was the right tool for this student.

There is nothing earth-shattering about this idea – that different times, people, or circumstances require different tools to be successful. That is what is so valuable about instructional design – it can analyze the instructional moment and suggest tools for a particular case.

This is a presentation that I give on concept maps and visual thinking:

Do you use concept maps in the classroom? How do you teach students how to use them? Do you use concept maps personally or professionally? I would love to hear your thoughts on tools and processes. Comment down below or email me at

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AI Ain’t What It Used to Be

There is currently no consensus on how closely...

This is your brain on AI. (Wikipedia)

Stephen Downes posted a link to the Metafilter blog where a discussion that begins thus is taking place:

Uber’s Self-Driving Car Didn’t Malfunction, It Was Just Bad. There were no software glitches or sensor breakdowns that led to a fatal crash, merely poor object recognition, emergency planning, system design, testing methodology, and human operation.

This sentence is exactly what I mean when I say that Artificial Intelligence is not intelligence. All of the “glitches,” poor object recognition, planning, design, testing and operation are all human glitches. In other words, there is only one intelligence (ours) and we are attempting to off-load its work on to algorithms we do not, obviously, fully understand.

I am actually all for self-driving cars. It it can potentially take drunk drivers, exhausted truck drivers, and texters off the road. According to the CDC: “each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.” They define distracted as “driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving.” I think that should include a premature trust in AI.

Rodney Brooks wrote a great article last year on AI for the MIT Technology Review (“The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions“), where he discusses some of the problems of AI predictions, including the case where discusses the prediction by Market Watch that said that “we will go from one million grounds and maintenance workers in the U.S. to only 50,000 in 10 to 20 years, because robots will take over those jobs.” He then goes on to point out that there are currently no robots on those jobs, and no realistic demonstrations of robots currently operational in those jobs.

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The Problem with Privacy

Here is the problem with privacy right now. Micro$loth thinks they are doing us a favor by giving us two options but there should be a third: no, I don’t want to share any information with you. You have taken my money and that should be enough:

Share how you use office with no option to NOT share.

For real privacy, there should be an option to NOT share anything. All of the new privacy updates to all of the programs that are now offering more transparency are following the same model. It makes me want to be even a greater advocate for open source than I am now. Learn more or accept indeed!

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LiDA103: Open education, copyright and open licensing in a digital world

I got this reminder for the free, micro-course from Wayne Mackintosh this morning. I am really looking forward to participating. I will be posting what I learn and about the people I meet here on this blog. Projects like these are at the core of sustainability for OER  – the zero cost to this course encourages participants who may not have the budget for corporate classes, and this in turn, encourages others to participate in the Commons:

Dear LiDA101 and LiDA102 participants

This is a brief courtesy email to let you know that the Open education, copyright and open licensing in a digital world (LiDA103) micro-course starts tomorrow.

If you would like to join us for this free course and receive announcements via email, please register online here:

Below, I also provide links to copies of the OERu orientation emails for learners who are not familiar with the OERu platform.

I hope to see you online!

Best wishes
Wayne Mackintosh

  1.     Introducing the OERu learning platform
  2.     Recommended web site accounts
  3.     Recommended social media applications
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How OERs Will Destroy the Future!

StefonLeiLani Cauthen published an opinion piece called “Are you still going to prefer OER? The $2.28 Billion Loss to Publishers & the Future – Part 1” that has been batted around Twitter for the last couple of days (thanks Robin DeRosa). It is a textbook example about why corporations do not belong in the education sector. Or at least, I don’t remember that it was our job or in our mission statement to make sure that corporations can maximize their profits. I feel like Stefon. I want to say “Yes, yes, yes…this article has EVERYTHING…no understanding of how education works, face-to-face or online; corporate sense of entitlement, persecution complex, straw-men arguments, no historical context, no understanding of how OER are created, shared, adapted, or used, and a big dose of paranoia.” I could go on. This article is going to wind up a big, gleeful piñata party on the internet. Let me take a couple of swings.

The gist of the article is that maybe we shouldn’t be promoting OER because it is hurting the textbook companies. And of course, the future is at stake! Please at least read that paragraph, the seventh one down in her article. On one of the future threats she asks “Will poor kids get grainy video and scanned-in scraps of black-and-white text while the rich kids get animated and interactive math-on-steroids that talks back to them in encouraging tones?” This is actually why I went into education and have been a creator, advocate, and promoter of open education resources because I have worked and taught in school districts where the students got NOTHING because the district was out of money and commercial options were too expensive.

The whole language of the article is just loaded and strange. In the opening paragraph she writes about an initiative that has “…whole States to agree to lean more heavily on free or “open license” digital resources over paid professional materials (PPR).” The states are not relying on “free” materials – open licensed materials are free but not all free materials are openly licensed. She contrasts OER (I think that is where she is going) with something she calls PPR, “paid professional materials.” I find that really insulting to the professional educators, researchers, instructional designers, and the myriad of others who have created OER. No one calls commercial textbooks or commercial ancillary materials PPR. She is coining a word and an abbreviation that is pretty meaningless.

There are a lot of things in this article that are just plain wrong. There are three statements in particular that show the author’s complete lack of understanding of the current OER environment. I will just address three here that hit me where I live:

  1. On top of this, in the world of OER, no one is tending the posting or updating of each resource because it costs money and time to do that.” There are hundreds of projects out there with faculty and staff doing just that: creating, using, adapting, and sharing OER. I will just offer a few examples that I have directly worked with or used at one point or another: Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources, BC Campus Open Ed, Open Textbooks Open Commons, and there are so many more out there it makes my brain hurt that she did not do any basic research into OER! There are so many library initiatives for the curating and posting of OER – librarians, as usual, are taking the lead in innovative practices.
  2. No one is really marketing OER either, because Free usually has no marketing budget.” Yes, many people are “marketing” there are numerous conferences that market OER, Open Education, and Open Textbook projects, programs, and intiatives
  3. Lets not forget to blame the victims: “Universities don’t have to pick expensive books, but often do because their own professors helped write them and profit from them directly.” MOST college professors are adjuncts and are not given the time and resources to research or write textbooks. Lets just turn this around “Corporations don’t have to sell expensive textbooks but often do because their own subject matter experts helped write them and profit directly off of them!” My point is that either way it is a bad situation: both involve creating expensive textbooks. Okay, I am running out of exclamation points…

It sounds like a great idea: put OER in the hands of corporations and let them innovate. The problem with that is not just a tax status issue, but that the goals of education and corporations are nearly antithetical to one another: no textbook publisher or commercial platform is going to walk into the boardroom and say “good news everyone, we project that our clients will be paying less and less each year over the next ten years.” The other thing that happens is that one year you have an altruistic corporate board and the next the company gets sold because all the people who sort of understood education retire.

There are too many things going right with OER. Creation, adoption, and curation has been slow because the open movement is up against a lot of corporate money. I am not particularly against corporations, but they are not a replacement for the vibrant community that a grass-roots, instructor led, open environment can facilitate.

That’s my three swings. I will let folks more eloquent and smarter than I pick up the bat. I can’t wait for Part II!

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Open the Gateless Gate: OER and Open Education

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year (and last, as a matter of fact) was to fight less and celebrate more. I can get really annoyed when I come across a pay-wall when trying to access materials that are openly licensed. Or if I have to go through a gate-keeper: no matter how enthusiastic the “thought leader” may be, it is still a gate. What part of open don’t you understand?

Anyway, in the spirit of celebration, I want to point out the Open Pedagogy Notebook. Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani created the site to “support community sharing of learning materials and ideas around access to knowledge and knowledge creation.” I love this site because it points out what I think is the real power of Open Education – connecting educators and creators together to make education happen. They go on to describe the project on their site as “a collaborative space where educators could share assignments, approaches, syllabi, and other examples of their Open practices. Though definitions of ‘Open Pedagogy’ are emergent and diverse, and this site is intended to inspire more than to inform, we hope having a space to gather interesting and promising work will be helpful to both advocates of Open and those who are new to these ideas.” This is so important. If we are ever to achieve the goals of Open Education and the OER movement in general, it will only be through modeling openness in our practices, connections, and institutions. Some of the best OER projects I have ever seen came from a community of teachers who looked at their surrounding school districts and found common problems and deficiencies and solved them using community-created or adapted OER.

Is the project “sustainable”? If by “sustainable” you mean provide a means for a corporation to make money off of the hard work of other educators, then no, maybe not. If you mean that the effects of work like this will go on to encourage and develop the education practices of others to make education more wide-spread and inclusive, or to encourage change in education over the long term, then yes – this is what real sustainability looks like.

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NWeLearn 2018 – Call for Proposals Ends April 16!

NB: Wipe those tears, the gin from your chin, and put down those tax forms: it is elearning conference time! I am on the board for this conference, and I think it is one of the best little gems in the elearning world – that is why I joined. I have met the most amazing people through this conference:

We’re excited for our conference this year! Please make sure that we hear about your brilliant work this October 18-19th at #NWeLearn18! Submit your proposal TODAY!

Call for Proposals Deadline April 16!

To submit a proposal, use this Submission Form.

Notifications regarding proposal acceptance will be emailed by mid-May, 2017. If you have any questions about the proposal process, please contact Weiwei Zhang at

For more information, please check the  Proposals Page on the NWeLearn website.

Thanks for submitting session proposals.  We couldn’t do this without you!

Super Early Bird registrations are open!

Add event to your calendar 
NWeLearn 2018
October 18 & 19, 2018

Warmest regards,
NWeLearn Board

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Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Class

I have a policy with students about using old research and ideas. I want them to look at what has been happening with the issues they are writing about using articles and other media that are roughly no more than five years old. If it is a primary document (Darwin, the Constitution, etc.), or an essential or unique argument, then yes, especially if the student goes through the trouble to argue for the usefulness of the text. I have a few older documents that I use, despite some of the issues that they might present, that are useful tools for self-reflection. One of those is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I know that there are arguments against it, but I think other things that we do in class (discussing bias and cultural relativism) address this. One of the useful things about Maslow’s Hierarchy is that it allows students to realize that there are other lenses in which to see other cultures or social problems besides right and wrong, good and bad, and other false or loose dichotomies. You might think that Kim Jung Un is a madman, but that pretty much stops the conversation. How do you solve a problem with a madman? Or a student may declare that so-and-so is a “terrorist” or people from a particular region are terrorists without knowing the history of the region or what the needs and motivations might be of someone who would choose to solve problems in a different way than the student would choose.
Diagram of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
                                                 Diagram of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (Wikipedia)

And there is another reason why I find it useful. I have students who come to school early in the morning after working until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. I have students worried about not having jobs; students who come to school hungry. And their attitude about their learning is often really skewed. I hear these students saying over and over that they are not good at math, writing, or reading. They will say that they are not smart or that school really isn’t for them when, according to Maslow, it is very difficult to be a creative problem-solver when you are still working on food, water, security, and self-esteem. If, as Aristotle said, one cannot philosophize on an empty stomach, then surely student will have great difficulty focusing on the binomial theorem. There is something liberating for some of these students when they realize that they are not stupid or that they are “not cut out for school” but their current, temporary circumstances can get in the way of their learning.

In the first week of Social Studies, we look at Maslow, Values and Public Policy, and other tools that not only let them look at the world a different way. It is a way to teach empathy, not just for the world, but for themselves as well.

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Locking Down Your Facebook Account

Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook Developer Gara...

Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook Developer Garage Paris, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one is really secure on the internet. And no one can totally lock-down their Facebook accounts. But there are some things that you can do to make it harder for others to access your information.

  1. Password
    I don’t believe we are still writing this in 2018, but change your password to something fairly complex every few months: use a capital letter, numbers, and a special character like one or more of these: “@#$%^?!”
  2. General Settings
    The “Settings” are found by going to the upper right-hand corner of the screen and clicking on the down arrow next to the help question mark.You should have a screen that looks like this:
    Note the “Download a copy of your Facebook data” – I definitely suggest you do this! Everyone else has it, why shouldn’t you? You will be suprised at how much is and isn’t there.
  3. Security and Log-In
    The first setting is Security and Log-In – I suggest that you enable two-factor authentication here. Facebook will send you a text to allow you to access the account.
  4. Privacy Settings and Tools
    This is how I have my privacy settings set-up. The default is to have your account be an open artery of data!
  5. Timeline and Tagging
    This is how I have set up my timeline and tagging:
  6. Blocking
    I won’t bother to show you the blurred out images of the obnoxious people I have had to block but I would like to note here that you need to block all the fun and games people invite you to use because they are really all data/identity vampires until proven otherwise!
  7. Language, Face Recognition, Notifications, and Mobile
    The language in mine is English. Face recognition sounds creepy but I have it turned off because I am not sure how far it really goes and I am sure Zuckerberg is not going to tell me. Notifications and Mobile should be looked at – it is not a security concern per se but a way to control some annoyance levels!
  8. Public Posts
    Facebook supposedly gives you some control over who views public posts. Note the “View your public timeline” to check how others on the internet can see you. This is how I have set this up:
  9. Apps and Websites
    This one can be a big deal to people. I liked the convenience of being able to connect Facebook to a lot of other websites so I do not have to take the time to repost things. But I am unwilling to brook the cost of that convenience. I recommend turning Facebook off as a platform. At least until Zuckerberg will tell us how he plans on securing my data to my satisfaction which will be the 12th of Never! This is what you want those settings to look like after you have turned them off:
  10. Ad Preferences
    I recommend that you go through these pull-down menus to check how you are being played by the advertisers but pay close attention to “Ad Settings”:

The rest of the settings should be links to the Support Inbox and such. What I am hoping is that the more people who adjust their Facebook settings, the less gargantuanly profitable Facebook will be and changes will be made. In the meantime, watch this space for alternatives and other ideas.

If you I missed something essential or if you have other tips and ideas, please support the revolution by posting below!

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What Should a Post-Facebook World Look Like?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook (Wikipedia)

Facebook was not the first alarm that ever went off for me around corporate involvement with technology, and I know that I am not alone in that. We all pretty much guessed that it was a compromise. It is no surprise that they sell information. What most people are shocked at is not that their data is being commodified but how little control Facebook has over that data. I know a number of educators who use Facebook, mobile apps, Google Docs (Google everything) with little consideration for the consequences of placing that trust outside of the institution. As educators, we should constantly be asking corporations for more accountability. There are a number of honest corporations out there (I am sometimes wrongly accused of being “anti-corporate”), but part of the problem with corporations is that there may be great intentions by the founders, but when some small, personal operation with integrity gets a huge offer from Megacorp, that integrity does not transfer with the deal. We need to start thinking about alternatives to the “monetize at any cost.” I am not sure where Facebook goes from here, but I do know that some are leaving and others who remain are asking questions. So what is a post-Facebook world? It may be a world without Facebook. Zuckerberg could sell the whole enterprise off and it could get swallowed up into the maw of some competitor. But the post-Facebook world I am really talking about is the one where everyone now knows that these social media corporations cannot be trusted with our data. They are not interested in doing so, and apparently do not have the means or know-how to do so. We have to take responsibility for this if they won’t. Here are a few of my ideas about what a post-Facebook world will look like.

More Transparent
We need to end the victim-blaming idea that “it was all in the User Agreement.” Expecting the average user to understand the language and the consequences of such agreements is disingenuous at best. I think they are overly long and complicated to hide the fact that you have no real “agreement” or to insure there is no agreement. Tech companies should spell out in plain English exactly what their business model is and what they plan to do with our data. It should be written out, drawn, graphed, and animated – as an education consultant, I would be happy to show you how this is done. It needs to be a lot easier to find out how one’s data is being used, and how to protect one’s self. 

More Regulated
We need the same kind of regulations that protect health records (HIPAA) and education records (FERPA). This not an anti-business screed. It just makes sense that when so much is at stake (fake news, elections, etc.). Regulating data has not hurt the insurance companies any. I am glad that congress is asking Zuckerberg to testify. He should account for how our data managed to wind up at Cambridge Analytica, and how others have used his platform to manipulate the public politically. But we need to go further, maybe it is time to create an organization or government agency that develops protections for the public against abuses of data.

More Educated
Just as financial literacy is rightly consider at some institutions to be a critical skill, so should digital literacy. Students need to know how to set up a domain, get the tools they need (blogs, wikis, email, etc.), and control their own data. It takes time but no more time than it would take a student to learn how to use a learning management system, school email, or Microsoft 365. And while we are training students and teachers in digital literacy, we should also ask that “entrepreneurs,” business majors, tech investors etc. get some kind of basic ethical training. We teach medical ethics and even beside manners at some medical schools, why shouldn’t there be mandatory ethics classes for business folks? Our education specializations have really hurt us. Middlesex University could not have picked a worse time to close a philosophy department.

More Open
There are open source alternatives to Facebook, especially for educators. For instance one can get WordPress up and running fairly quickly. For many of my folks in the edtech world, the corporate solutions have time and time again failed. And not all domain services are equal: in education a good alternative model would be Reclaim Hosting* (or Rockaway Hosting outside of education) combined with WordPress, Known, or any other open source content management system. Then, it is only a matter of setting up a page that will allow you to follow other folks blogs or RSS feeds. This is not that hard. I was an English major and I eventually, reluctantly, figure this out. With advances in technology, it has only gotten easier. Whether it is the LMS, Open Education Resources, or Open Textbooks, the corporate model always defaults to “how do we make this sustainable” (i.e. how do we make money off of this). Again, this is not an anti-corporation attack, but we need to acknowledge that there are things that corporations do well, and things they have no business in. I am not ready to buy an open source, one-of-a-kind car, or take roll-your-own antibiotics. Our health care, education, and our relationships should not be managed by for profit entities, and neither should our data.

In the meantime:

Write a Letter
The original social networks were created by writing and the invention of the post. The day after I locked down my Facebook account, I wrote a card to my dear father, and it felt great. I have gathered snail mail addresses and am going to write folks more. Some of my friends on Facebook are actually posting their addresses and phone numbers to reconnect with people in the non-digital realm.

Take Someone to Lunch
Seriously, we all need to get out more.

AND, if you have some ideas or models of what a post-Facebook world should look like, feel free to comment below. I would love to hear from you – maybe we can have lunch sometime.

*I will readily admit that I am a huge fan of Reclaim Hosting and the people I know there. This blog is hosted there, but I have no financial interest in their company besides being a customer, and my sincere wishes for their continued success.

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