New project – graphing knowledge

Throughout the history of education, people have recorded knowledge to be learnt. This knowledge is understood at different ‘levels’ and teachers / authors / curriculum-people have delivered accordingly. This idea of levels is a useful heuristic that helps us deliver appropriate content to a given audience. However, (like any heuristic) it is limited – our classifications are based on intuition and a whole host of assumptions are made as we then apply this to learners.

The difficulty is that a more precise model of knowledge is highly complicated – not the sort of thing that a human being – even one equipped with fantastic knowledge, experience and equipment – is able to easily use. Knowledge is a complicated set of interrelations and an important factor is the development of concepts over time – my understanding of ‘solid’ is very different from an 8 yr old’s or a 13 yr old’s. It’s going to take something remarkable to surpass the intuition of an experienced teacher who, implicitly, probably has this type of understanding of their pupils.

I think I have come up with an original way of dealing with this, harnessing the ability of computers to manage, sort and visualise linked data.  I am creating a database of terms defined at different levels of complexity that also maps their dependencies (i.e. what level of understanding of other terms is required to understand this term at this level).

Having created a set of (admittedly, quite random) definitions for scientific terms, I’ve had a go at throwing them into a graphing layout algorithm (dagre) and got a fairly promising result:

So my immediate next steps are:

  • Get this into a live working model – I need to hook my CMS-based database up to the graphing/visualisation tools (harder than I’d wish, but still achievable)
  • Develop the datasets, potentially using categorisation to keep things managable

My long term thoughts:

  • How to validate/refine the model – gather raw data from learners?
  • How to analyse this – can we spot threshold concepts? concepts that are so interrelated they must be taught in tandem? logical loops!
  • How to apply this – to inform teaching sequences? to develop assessment? to track progress?


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