Cutting Edge > Introductory Courses > Browse Activities > Learning Assessment #8 - Concept Map (2011)

Learning Assessment #8 - Concept Map

Leslie Reid1, Ben Cowie1, Joel Cubley2, Michelle Speta3
1University of Calgary, 2Yukon College, 3University of Alberta


An end of the term, in-class activity that challenges students to synthesize their understanding of the fundamental concepts taught over the course of the semester - plate tectonics, the rock cycle, geologic time and the basics of scientific research.

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This activity was used in an introductory physical geology course that is a mandatory course for geoscience majors but is also open to students in all faculties. No pre-requisite courses required. The course page is available at:

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This learning assessment is intended to be carried out at the end of the term, at which point students should be confident with plate tectonics, the rock cycle, geologic time and scientific research methods. Ideally, students will have completed the prior learning assessments on these topics.

How the activity is situated in the course

This assignment is the final installment of a series of in-class activities known as learning assessments.

Students are strongly encouraged to work in groups to complete the learning assessments, however each student must submit their own assignment. Learning assessments are all "open book" and students are encouraged to use their textbooks and other external resources to help them complete their assignments.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Rather than testing students understanding of a particular concept, the goal of this learning assessment is to test student understanding of all the major concepts covered in the course (plate tectonics, the rock cycle, geologic time and scientific research) by identifying the relationships between them.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Synthesis of ideas (e.g. How are plate tectonics and the rock cycle related? Give specific examples demonstrating the relationship between the two.)

Other skills goals for this activity

Presenting ideas in the format of concept maps, working in groups, using external resources (e.g. internet, textbooks), using new software (optional).

Description of the activity/assignment

At the end of the semester, students are asked to create a concept map of the four main concepts covered over the duration of the course. They are provided with a grading rubric and 4 the main nodes that are required on the map (plate tectonics, the rock cycle, geologic time and scientific research). The four concepts can be arranged in any manner, and the connecting lines must be labelled with appropriate terms and examples. Students have the option of creating a paper map (11'' x 17'' or larger) or a digital map using a free software program, VUE.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Concept maps are evaluated using a grading rubric which clearly states the criteria required to achieve each level of performance from 0 to 4, where 4 is full marks. Concept maps are returned to students during a review period where the instructor devotes a class to going over the activity and explaining common errors.

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Supporting references/URLs

This learning assessment uses a free, open source software program called VUE (Visual Understanding Environment), which can be downloaded at:

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