I was wrong; it happens sometimes. I have avoided trying out Cmap for years because I assumed that something developed at an Institute for Human and Machine Cognition would be arcane, hard to use, and meant only for those who could spend days setting it up, had administrative access to servers, or would be willing to live on discussion lists with hard-core techies until they could figure it out.
I couldn’t have been more mistaken. IHMC is affiliated with the Florida University system, and they have developed a free tool you can figure out, by yourself, in a couple hours. Right now, Cmap seems to be the concept mapping tool I have been seeking for a long time, something I can heartily recommend to students and faculty.
It’s free for everyone (I know, I said that already, but I want to repeat it).
It’s simple but flexible.
You can attach files of different types (pdfs, images, spreadsheets) as well as embed urls.
You can easily share your work with other people.
Supports reciprocal relationships and non-hierarchical relationships, so can be used to model reasonably complex systems; you can also hide nodes and link nodes between maps to deal with increasing complexity.
There’s good documentation.
This is just a very simple example to show some of its features.
Concept maps are important, both in education and in personal knowledge management, because they help us make order out of our information; they are a step in the direction of making sense of all the material that we are trying to relate. They force us to surface our assumptions, clarify relationships, and help us place new material in the context of what we already know.David Hyerle calls them tools for “thinking about the box” (Visual Tools for Transforming Information into Knowledge, 91).
Novak, Joseph D. Learning, Creating, and Using Knowledge: Concept Maps as Facilitative Tools in Schools and Corporations. Second edition. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Novak, Joseph D. and Cañas, Alberto J. “The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them.” Technical Report IHMC Cmap Tools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008.
Teaching and Learning with Concept Maps at Inspiration Software, a big player in the K-12 mind mapping and concept mapping market. They have a product meant for higher education, called Inspiration Pro, available by subscription. You can save your maps only online, and once you give up your subscription you lose access to your maps. Additionally, you cannot attach documents to your maps (except other Inspiration maps and weblinks) – no pdfs, word processing or spreadsheet files, which seriously limits their usefulness.