OER mapping and knowledge cartography

There’s been a flurry of interest in mapping within the Open Educational Resources community, catalysed by Susan D’Antoni’s facilitated 3-week online discussion to crowdsource requirements for a participatory “OER World Map”. This has sparked many dreams and visions about what could or should be usefully ‘mapped’.

This discussion triggered memories from back in 2008 when I was developing an account of how “cartography” as both a metaphor, art and discipline could be ‘mapped’ (sorry) to the charting of emergent intellectual landscapes (two examples appended).

In 2010-12, Hewlett Foundation funded the OLnet project to research the evidence base around the impact of OER, and with our colleagues in IET, we developed the Open Education Evidence Hub. This generates a filterable, interactive Google Map as one view (of many) onto the OER movement, complemented by conceptual maps of the evidence base (challenges, issues, claims, solutions, resources), plus social networks of the people and organizations:

In the follow-on work which we’ve driven forward in KMI, we’ve subsequently generified this into Evidence-Hub.net — a customizable shell for any community of enquiry seeking to pool their collective intelligence, bridging across academic and practitioner perspectives:

So, some broader perspectives on knowledge cartography…

Knowledge Mapping for Sensemaking

Ontolog webinar, 17 April 2008

Introduction: A “knowledge mapping” approach to managing information, knowledge and decisions places the emphasis on the creation of “cartographic” layers, which like spatial maps, weave different kinds of stories over the “raw data” of documents, deadlines, resources, problems. Just as the map is not the territory, neither is a knowledge map neutral, nor necessarily a consensus worldview, and not to be taken as truth. Continuing the spatial planning metaphor, a good knowledge map is a powerful representation for sensemaking: orientation, shared memory, filtering complexity, and maintaining shared attention for planning and decision making. In software, digital maps of such intellectual landscapes exploit the power of hypermedia, folksonomy, social tools, and (where possible) reasoning over formal ontology. The centrality of social processes in negotiating the meaning of a map is unquestioned. The speakers in today’s session work from these assumptions, and will take you deeper into their particular approaches.

Knowledge Cartography

Preface to Knowledge Cartography: Software Tools and Mapping Techniques. (Eds.) Okada, A., Buckingham Shum, S. and Sherborne, T. Springer: Advanced Information and Knowledge Processing Series. ISBN: 978-1-84800-148-0

The eyes are not responsible when the mind does the seeing.
Publilius Syrus (85-43 BC)

Maps are one of the oldest forms of human communication. Map-making, like painting, pre-dates both number systems and written language. Primitive peoples made maps to orientate themselves in both the living environment and the spiritual worlds. Mapping enabled them to transcend the limitations of private, individual representations of terrain in order to augment group planning, reasoning and memory. Shared, visual representations opened new possibilities for focusing collective attention, re-living the past, envisaging new scenarios, coordinating actions and making decisions.

Maps mediate the inner mental world and outer physical world. They help us make sense of the universe at different scales, from galaxies to DNA, and connect the abstract with the concrete by overlaying meanings onto that world, from astrological deities to signatures for diseases. They help us remember what is important, and explore possible configurations of the unknown. Cartography — the discipline and art of making maps — has of course evolved radically. From stone, wood and animal skins, we now wield software tools that control maps as views generated from live data feeds, with flexible layering and annotation. (Our sister volume in this series, The Geospatial Web, explores the convergence of spatial data, mapping tools and the social web: Scharl and Tochtermann, 2006)

Foundational concept, fragmented thinking, line of argument, blue skies research, peripheral work”: we spatialise the world of ideas all the time with such expressions. Maps can be used to make such configurations tangible, whether sketched on a napkin or modelled in software. In this book we bring together many of the leading researchers and practitioners who are creating and evaluating such software for mapping intellectual worlds. We see these as new tools for reading and writing in an age of information overload, when we need to extract and construct meaningful configurations, around which we can tell different kinds of narrative.

For a visual generation of children who have never known a world without ubiquitous information networks, we might hypothesise that knowledge maps could have particular attraction as portals into the world of ideas. Moreover, the network is not only dominant when we think about our social and technical infrastructures, but almost an ontological stance in postmodernity, where we hold our viewpoints to be precisely that: always partial and contextualised. Weaving connections between nodes in the network is the most flexible way to bring ideas and information into locally coherent relationships with each other, knowing that there is always another viewpoint on the validity of these patterns. Modelled in software, the vision is that intellectual continents, islands and borders can be invoked and dissolved at different scales, as required.

Knowledge Cartography can be defined as:

  • the art, craft, science, design and engineering of different genres of map to describe intellectual landscapes — answering the question how can we create knowledge maps?
  • and the study of cartographic practices in both beginners and experts as they make and use such maps — answering the question how effective are knowledge maps for different kinds of user?

The particular focus of the authors in this volume is on sensemaking: the process by which externalising one’s understanding clarifies one’s own grasp of the situation, as well as communicates it to others — literally, the making of sense (Weick, 1995: p.4). While “sense” can be expressed in many ways (non-verbally in gesture, facial expression and dance, and in prose, speech, statistics, film…), knowledge cartography as construed here places particular emphasis on digital representations of connected ideas, specifically designed to:

I. Clarify the intellectual moves and commitments at different levels.
(e.g. Which concepts are seen as more abstract? What relationships are legitimate? What are the key issues? What evidence is being appealed to?)

II. Incorporate further contributions from others, whether in agreement or not.
The map is not closed, but rather, has affordances designed to make it easy for others to extend and restructure it.

III. Provoke, mediate, capture and improve constructive discourse.
This is central to sensemaking in unfamiliar or contested domains, in which the primary challenge is to construct plausible narratives about how the world was, is, or might be, often in the absence of complete, unambiguous data.

Our intention with this book is to provide a report on the state of the art from leaders in their respective fields, identify the important challenges as they are currently seen in this relatively young field, and inspire readers to test and extend the techniques described — hopefully, to think more critically and creatively. Many of the tools described are not sitting in research labs, but are finding application in diverse walks of life, with active communities of practice. These communities represent the readership we hope for: learners, educators, and researchers in all fields, policy analysts, scenario planners, knowledge managers and team facilitators. We hope that practitioners will find new perspectives and tools to expand their repertoire, while researchers will find rich enough conceptual grounding for further scholarship.

Genres of knowledge map

A range of mapping techniques and support tools has evolved, shaped by the problems being tackled, the skill of mappers, and the sophistication of software available. We briefly characterise below the main genres of map. The appendix summarises at a glance which mapping approaches and software tools are presented in each chapter.

[see rest of preface for examples…]

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