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The Impact of Cognitive Style on Concept Mapping: Visualizing Variations in the Structure of Ideas

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Understanding Our Students I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1310.1 - 25.1310.17



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Paper Authors


Joanna F. DeFranco Pennsylvania State University, Great Valley

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Joanna DeFranco earned her Ph.D. in computer and information science from New Jersey Institute of Technology, M.S. in computer engineering from Villanova University, and B.S. in electrical engineering from Penn State, University Park. She teaches graduate courses, including Problem Solving, Project Management, Software Systems Design, Computer Forensics, Ethics and Values in Science and Technology, Advanced Software Engineering Studio, and an Information Technology seminar. Previous to entering academia, DeFranco held a number of positions in industry and government, including Software Engineer for Motorola in Horsham, Penn., and an Electronics Engineer for the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster, Penn. She has published a number of articles in journals and conference proceedings in the area of collaborative problem solving, group cognition, e-learning, and global engineering.

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Kathryn W. Jablokow Penn State University

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Kathryn Jablokow is Associate Professor of mechanical engineering and engineering design at Penn State University. A graduate of Ohio State University (electrical engineering), Jablokow's teaching and research interests include creativity, problem solving, and cognitive diversity in engineering, as well as robotics and computational dynamics. In addition to her membership in ASEE, she is a Senior Member of IEEE and a Fellow of ASME. Jablokow is the architect of a unique four-course graduate module focused on problem solving leadership and is currently developing a new methodology for cognition-based design. She founded and directs the Problem Solving Research Group, whose 50+ collaborating members include faculty and students from several universities, as well as industrial representatives, military leaders, and corporate consultants.

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Sven G. Bilen Pennsylvania State University, University Park Orcid 16x16

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Sven G. Bilen is an Associate Professor of engineering design, electrical engineering, and aerospace engineering at Penn State and Head of the School of Engineering
Design, Technology, and Professional
Programs. His educational research interests include developing techniques for enhancing engineering design education, innovation in design, teaching technological entrepreneurship, global product design, and systems design.

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Andras Gordon Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Andras Gordon is an instructor of engineering design in the School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional programs. He is interested in applications of systems thinking in introductory engineering design classes. He is also involved in optimizing ways of collaboration in virtual teams of engineering and other students in culturally diverse and geographically dispersed environment.

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The Impact of Cognitive Style on Concept Mapping: Visualizing Variations in the Structure of IdeasAbstractConcept mapping is a graphical technique used to represent an individual’s knowledge andunderstanding about a topic; it can be particularly useful in the early stages of engineeringproblem solving and design. In concept maps, concepts are arranged in hierarchical patternsusing labeled cross-links to connect the various branches and explain relationships (includingcausality) between the nodes (see Figure 1). The use of concept maps in engineering educationresearch is growing, with applications in the assessment of knowledge mastery and integrationwithin courses, programs, and across multiple disciplines. Theory & Effective practice Informs collaboration Results in Is based on Requires Creative diversity Engineering Requires Design Leads to Improves Many ideas Figure 1: Example concept mapFrom a cognitive perspective, concept maps are typically used to tell us about the cognitive levelof our students – i.e., how much they know about a particular topic and how well they canexpress that knowledge – but they may have more to tell us. In particular, we believe that thestructure and content of a student’s concept map may give us important insights into thatstudent’s cognitive style (i.e., their preference for managing structure). To test this hypothesis,we designed and performed a detailed statistical experiment to study the impact of cognitivestyle on concept mapping. Cognitive style was assessed using the Kirton Adaption-Innovationinventory or KAI, a well-established and highly validated psychometric instrument. As measuredby KAI, an individual’s cognitive style falls somewhere along a continuum between moreadaptive and more innovative; individuals who are more adaptive prefer more structure whenproblem solving, while more innovative individuals prefer less structure. In complex problemsolving, a diversity of styles is required to solve the wide diversity of problems we face today.The subjects of our study (undergraduate and graduate engineering students) completed twoconcept maps; the first was based on “common knowledge”, while the second related to relevantengineering course material. We explored both traditional and holistic scoring approaches withthe students’ concept maps. Traditional scoring generally involves counting three map attributes(concepts, hierarchies, and cross-links), while holistic scoring attempts to capture the overall“quality” of understanding reflected in a student’s concept map based on three categories(comprehensiveness, organization, and correctness), each of which is divided into three levels.The students’ KAI results were correlated with both traditional and holistic concept map metricsto investigate the impact of cognitive style on the students’ performance; these results and theirimplications for engineering education will be discussed, along with the cognitive styledistributions of our samples.

DeFranco, J. F., & Jablokow, K. W., & Bilen, S. G., & Gordon, A. (2012, June), The Impact of Cognitive Style on Concept Mapping: Visualizing Variations in the Structure of Ideas Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22067

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