Concept Mapping in A&P – One Instructor’s Experience

I assigned concept maps as homework in my A&P courses and it has proven to be extremely effective. Students are provided instructions for how to access a free concept mapping website and a list of concepts to be included in their map. I typically assign one map per major topic or body system (8-10 per semester). Concepts to be included are heavily based on the HAPS Learning Outcomes. Since students can make concept maps in many different ways, they are primarily graded for level of detail and completeness. After the first assignment is submitted, I choose several maps and display them anonymously to the class. I ask students to identify how that particular map is helpful and to find ways the map might be improved, stressing their use as study tools. As students gain experience, the quality of their maps improves significantly. By the end of the semester, many are astonishingly complex and detailed.

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(Click on image above or here for a full-size PDF)

Student scores on a standardized departmental final have improved in the classes that I’ve utilized concept mapping and many students reported that concept maps were extremely helpful in A&P.  Many nursing programs now heavily integrate concept mapping into nursing education so this assignment was particularly helpful to pre-nursing students. I also discovered that the rate of homework completion was higher for concept maps than more “traditional” homework. Students stated that creating the map forced them to really read the text and think about how the concepts related to each other, but that they were also fun!

Since several of these students had previously utilized concept mapping in my courses, they volunteered to create a comprehensive concept map that included all of the 900+ HAPS Learning Outcomes. Their goal was to use this project to reinforce their own understanding of A&P and to create a teaching tool that could be displayed for future student use.

They worked on this project on their own time between early January and mid-May, 2018, including spring break, while also juggling classes, jobs, and other responsibilities. The final product, a 16-foot-long concept map with over 5000 elements, was printed and displayed during the conference.

Paul Luyster, Associate Professor of Biology, and nine TCC students, Brian Cisneros, Daniel Duran, Stephanie Galaviz-Webster, Jocelyn Gonzalez, Karely Leon, Mitchell McDowell, Auston McIntosh, Lisabel Ruiz-Steblein, and Jami Williams, presented a workshop titled “Using Case Studies and Concept Mapping Assignments to Enhance Student Engagement and Learning in A&P” at the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) Conference in Columbus, Ohio, May, 2018.

These students are proud of their concept map but even more importantly, they know with certainty that they have constructed – in a diagram and in their mind – a detailed set of concepts and relationships that integrates all of the important aspects of A&P.. They know their stuff, and they KNOW that they know it. Isn’t that what teaching is all about?


Paul Luyster is an Associate Professor of Biology at Tarrant County College, Fort Worth, Texas, where he enjoys teaching Anatomy and Physiology, Majors Biology, Undergraduate Biology Research, and an Environmental Biology Wilderness Course.


5 thoughts on “Concept Mapping in A&P – One Instructor’s Experience

  1. Paul, thanks for sharing this! Congrats to the students on completing it! It is really striking to see all of the learning outcomes spread across the wall like that.It’s a great visual depiction of how many HAPS learning outcomes there are — over 900, as you said. With that in mind, I’d like to raise the following general question: to what extent is this immense list compatible or incompatible with Vision & Change, which prioritizes a few central core concepts and a few core competencies, as opposed to having a much longer list? I would be interested in people’s thoughts.

  2. Interesting you should bring this up! I, too, have struggled with the insane task of covering 900+ objectives. After recently reading Joel Michaels (et al) work on the “15 core concepts” in physiology, I am changing my strategy. I am currently developing concept mapping assignments that ask students to consider a (simple) case study (based on the system being covered) and to build a map of key concepts around it that are color coded to the 15 core principles. I hope that this will help students prioritize all of those objectives according to those core principles and in the context of how they will be used in a clinical setting. I hope to share my results at HAPS!

    • Not at all! You are welcome to print it. We have ours hanging in the science building hallway, and students stop and study it all the time. We used a banner-printing company to print ours. If you would, please email me a photo of it once you put it up. Several other schools have already done that. Our administrators get really excited when they hear our students’ work is being displayed and used in other colleges and universities. Thanks!

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