Effect of embedded graphic mapping strategies in complementing verbal instruction

Effect of embedded graphic mapping strategies in complementing verbal instruction

Roshan, Visa


This study examined (a) the instructional effect of varied graphic mapping strategies (spider maps, frame maps and semantic maps) in facilitating student achievement of different types of educational objectives and (b) the significance of the amount of time students have to process the information presented in the varied mapping strategies. The instructional content used in this study was a 2000-word module on the parts and functions of the human heart. Two hundred forty-eight students were randomly assigned to two groups (A and B) and then randomly assigned within each group to one of five treatments. Subjects in Group A were asked to interact with instructional script at their own pace. Subjects in Group B were asked to interact with instructional script for 30 minutes. Following the instructional script students received a battery of tests measuring different educational objectives.

Results of the one-way analysis of variance revealed insignificant differences in achievement among students in each treatment group. Significant differences in interaction time was found to exist between the two treatment groups in favor of the self-paced treatment (Group A) indicating that it may be more efficient for students to interact with the embedded graphic strategies at their own pace. Results also indicate that. although the different graphic mapping strategies were structurally different, in terms of facilitating increased levels of learning, they were functionally identical.


The development of structural models of semantic memory has been the focus of cognitive research for a long time (1). Structural theories are based on the assumption that the relationship between and among the units of information in memory reflect their meaning and predict retrievability (2-3). According to Mandler and Goodman (4, p. 509) “…meaning does not exist unless some structure or organization is achieved”. Bruner (5, p. 24) emphasized the importance of structure and organization of information by stating that “… unless information is placed in structured pattern, it is rapidly forgotten”. In this sense semantic organizers are graphical representations of meaningful relationships structured around a central topic. They are simple systems that may enhance the effectiveness of any teaching method and simplify the contents of the learning process. As structures, they contain content, but as functions they process the information of experiences and meaning in memory (6). Semantic organizers are also referred to as semantic maps or semantic webs (7-8).

Beissner, Jonassen, and Grabowski (9) have identified the types of explicit graphic strategies for representing structural knowledge as: semantic mapping, semantic features analysis, structural overview, graphic organizers, spider maps, pattern notes, concept maps, networking, text mapping, and schematizing. They noted that these strategies differ in format and appearance, types of relationships presented, the labeling of the relationships, and the type of cognitive processing required if generated by the learner. These strategies are intended to facilitate the analysis, integration and elaboration of information.

Educational and psychological research has identified instructional time as a viable instructional variable (10). Structural knowledge learning strategies such as graphs, diagrams, and maps can be considered to be rehearsal strategies. The longer the information is stored in short-term or working memory, the better the chance the information will be processed and encoded into long-term memory and retained. Retrieval and recall from memory can be enhanced if the information interacted with was well-structured and organized at the time of learning (11). Friedman and Richard (12) suggest that if learners spend more time studying, the result generally is better comprehension and retention of information.


The literature supports the use of organizational strategies in complementing verbal instruction; however, there is limited research dealing with the relative effectiveness of different structural (graphic) strategies in facilitating student achievement of different instructional objectives and the instructional effect that different amounts of interaction time has on student achievement. Specifically, the purpose of this study was to examine (a) the instructional effect of different types of graphic strategies (Spider Maps, Spatial Maps, Frame Maps and Semantic Maps) in facilitating student achievement of difference types of educational objectives and (b) the significance of the amount of time students have to process the information presented in the varied mapping strategies.


Two hundred forty-eight students at the Penn State University were randomly assigned to two groups (A and B) and then randomly assigned within each group to one of four treatments. Subjects in Group A were asked to interact with instructional script at their own pace for as long as they needed to comprehend the information being presented. Subjects in Group B were asked to interact with instructional script for 30 minutes. Subjects in each group were randomly assigned to 4 treatment subgroups: treatment I (control group), received no structural graphic strategy; treatment 2, received the spider mapping strategy; treatment 3, received the frame mapping strategy; and treatment 4, received the semantic mapping strategy. Following the instructional script, subjects in group A (self-paced interaction time) and group B (controlled 30 minutes interaction time) completed four individual criterion tests measuring different educational objectives.

The instructional content used in the study was a 2,000-word module describing the human heart, its parts, and the internal processes which occur during the systolic and diastolic phases (13). Based on the result of an item analysis on the pilot study, forty-eight difficulty areas were identified which had the greatest potential for improving student achievement. Graphic strategies were embedded in the instructional modules to facilitate student achievement in each of these content areas. Following is a description of each of the treatments. Basic structural characteristics for the various graphic strategies were adapted from a text by Jonassen, Beissner and Yacci (14).

Treatment 1. Control Group

No graphic strategies were added to the instructional script for the students in the control group. Students went through the respective instructional script at their own pace. The amount of time that each student spent interacting with their instructional treatment was recorded.

Treatment 2. Spider Map Graphics

Spider Maps function to improve memory by organizing details in relation to a main idea. The main idea is selected and written in the center of the page inside a geometric shape (Figure la). Concepts that are important to the main ideas are organized and written on a line leading to the main idea (Figure lb). The more detailed subordinate concepts are written on lines leading out from the secondary concepts (Figure lc). Figure la illustrates the main idea, Figure lb indicates concepts related to the main idea, and items identified as Figure lc indicates subordinate concepts related to the secondary concepts.

Treatment 3. Frame Map Graphics

Frame graphics function to facilitate learner identification of relationships among important concepts, principles and procedures in a context domain. Several types of frame graphics were employed in this study. Associations = Classes/Example. Superordinate, Subordinate, Coordinate, Equality and Influence/Cause and Effect. Combinations of different frame graphics were also employed. Figure 2 illustrates a sample of each. Each graphic would be complementing relevant content.

Treatment 4. Semantic Map Graphics

Semantic graphics begin with the main idea word or key concept from a text passage. Words that are related to the main idea are grouped according to a common feature. The grouping of related words are named, forming a hierarchy of concepts related to the main idea. This hierarchy of concepts can be as little or as many as needed, depending on the instructional settings. Figure 3a illustrates sample semantic graphics, Figure 3b a complex semantic map


Students in each treatment received their respective instructional presentation and then completed four individual criterion tests. Scores on these tests were combined into an 80-item total criterion test. The objective of each test was as follows: (a) drawing test-to evaluate learning of specific locations of various patterns, structures and positions of the parts of the heart, (b) identification test-to measure transfer of learning (i.e., the ability to identify numbered parts of a diagram of the heart from information received in the instruction), (c) terminology test-to evaluate students’ knowledge of referents for specific symbols, (d) comprehension test-to measure understanding of the heart, its parts and internal operations, and (e) total criterion test-to measure the students’ total understanding of the concept presented. An additional analysis was also conducted on the 48-test items which were directly related to the placement of the graphic maps. Following is a description of the individual criterion measures.

Drawing Test

The drawing test assessed the students’ ability to construct the heart in its proper context. The students had to draw a representation of the heart and label the parts with the numbers that correspond to a list of 20 parts given with the test (for example, the epicardium, aortic valve, septum, and pulmonary veins). This test was evaluated for the correct placement of the parts.

Identification Test

This 20-item multiple-choice test evaluated the students’ ability to identify the parts of the heart from a supplied drawing of the heart with four or five letter labels pointing to various areas of the heart. The purpose of this test was to measure the students’ use of visual cues to discriminate different structures of the heart and connect proper names of the heart with the location of the part.

Terminology Test This 20-item multiple-choice test was designed to measure the students’ knowledge of facts, terms, and definitions.

Comprehension Test

This 20-item multiple-choice test measured the students’ ability to evaluate the movement of the heart and the position of certain parts at a particular time when the heart is functioning. The student must understand the parts of the heart, their function, and the simultaneous processes that take place during the systolic and diastolic phases.

Total Criterion Test

The items given in the drawing identification, terminology, and comprehension tests were combined to give a total criterion score. This score was used to measure students’ total performance.


Dependent variables were achievement scores obtained on the Drawing, Terminology, Identification, Comprehension special 48-item test, and the Total Criterion Test. The experimental design for this study employed one-way analysis of variance. Independent variables were the control and the treatments containing the different mapping strategies (Spatial, Frame, Semantic). Alpha was set at the .OS level. Where significant F-ratios were found to exist, appropriate t-test comparisons were employed. Figure 4 illustrates the basic design for the study.


Analysis of variance conducted on the achievement scores of students in Group A (self-paced) and in Group B (30-minutes) indicated that insignificant difference at the .OS levels existed on all criterion tests for students in both Group A and Group B. However, significant differences in the amount of time required for students to interact with their respective treatments was found to exist. Students in Group A, (the self-paced group) required significantly less time to proceed through their respective instructional treatments.

The results of this study indicate that even though the different mapping graphic strategies were structurally different they were functionally identical in terms of facilitating student achievement. Sommerfield and Sobik (15) have indicated that, in the investigation of the process of mapping, you have to take into consideration that information processing is an active process. If students had read the content and actively structured the content in compliance with the structures associated with the different mapping strategies rather than merely “reviewing” the provided structures, the results may have been entirely different. A more elaborate formalized introduction may have also functioned to magnify the differences among the mapping strategies. Jonassen (p. 16) suggested that “…by explicitly showing subject matter structure or experts’ cognitive structures, learners win assimilate an appropriate organizational scheme as well as the information to be learned.”

Another possible explanation for the obtained results may be attributed to the population utilized in the study. College level students have substantially developed their learning strategies and individual skills that enables them to develo?, identify, and organize content into meaningful patterns when interacting with printed instructional instruction. Consequently, the embedded graphic organizers added little if any additional information for students who received those strategies. Hence, their performance was no higher than students in the control group who received no graphic organizers embedded in their instructional script. It might also have been that the students’ unfamiliarity with the structural knowledge strategies impeded their interaction with the instructional script, confused them, and hindered their performance. Consequently, the structural knowledge strategies that were used in this study added no additional meaningful processing. In fact, they may have produced information overload for the students. Dwyer (13) suggested that when the human information processing system undergoes the stress of processing overload, performance becomes degraded.

Perhaps if the instructional material were designed to provide the learner with more in-depth interaction and practice with embedded maps, performance may have increased significantly. An example of such instructional material would be computer-based, where the program was designed to force the learner to interact and practice with the information to learn it adequately before being allowed to move forward.

Friedman and Richards (12) suggested that if a learner spends more time studying, the result is better comprehension and retention of information. Kiegle (17) indicated that memory accuracy is related to presentation time. Longer presentation time leads to better performance. In this study, significant differences were found on the amount of time students spent interacting with their respective presentations. Differences were in favor of Group A (the self-paced treatment (17 minutes)); students in Group B had 30 minutes to interact with their instructional units. However, no significant differences were found in achievement between students in group A (self-paced) and group B (controlled 30-minutes interaction time). The conclusion may be drawn that it is more efficient for students to interact at their own pace with their instructional modules.


This study attempted to explore the effect of varied graphic mapping strategies in complementing verbal instruction. In addition, the effect of interaction time when receiving varied structural knowledge learning strategies was measured. The statistical results show, that there are no added benefits to using graphic mapping strategies to complement verbal instruction, when presented in the manner employed in this study (students were not required to construct the mapping strategies – only to interact with the provided strategies). The result of this study shows that, although spider mapping, frame mapping, and semantic mapping are different in the way they are structured, they present the same organizational structure to students. In printed instruction, where the instructor has little control over students’ interaction with the content, embedded graphic organizers of the type employed in this study provide little if any additional benefit. It students were asked to construct and structure their own maps, they might have been motivated to interact with the content at deeper levels. Also, it is possible that if similar strategies are employed with computer-based instruction, where there is more opportunity to control the students’ interaction with the content, different results might have been achieved.

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Francis Dwyer

Pennsylvania State University 310B Keller Building University Park, PA 16802 FMD@PSU.EDU 814-863-7382


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