Concept Mapping an Unconfined System

Our quarter three studio class continues with the research we did last quarter around post-traditional students. Due to some internal class changes, I have moved groups to join Kim Nguyen and Aaron Steinman, who are focusing on working students. While the focus statement and characteristics of the participants have shifted, my research with prospective students is still relevant as there is a lot of overlap in personal struggles, influences, and student goals.

Concept Mapping

This week we were asked to create a concept map in our domain of interest in order to reframe our understanding of the college system and how the people to who we spoke fit into it. This is a different exercise from my previous concept map mapping a financial banking app because that was a bounded system with a limited number of pathways and affordances. When approaching this assignment, it was difficult to know what terms to use in the map and to figure out a clear way to connect them to show their relationship to each other and to the whole.

Where to Start

I began by going back to my data from quarter two and creating a list of terms from the most prominent concepts in my themes and insights. I then connected them and described their relationships, but my initial map was a mess.

First iteration of concept map
First iteration of concept map

The guiding theme of the map was “Reflection,” as that has been an interesting concept to me while theming and developing insights. The fact that persisting through college requires people to constantly be weighing options and navigating personal and scholastic obstacles necessitates the ability to reflect on students’ actions and ideas. The data shows the students with the strongest ability to reflect generally had more robust plans for navigating future potential obstacles.  However, I do not think this map *ahem*  reflects those findings.


I tried sketching different layouts to optimize for readability and aesthetics, but I struggled with having the diagram come together to make my broader point. I used printouts of the terms and moved them around on a table in various groupings until I thought I had something workable, which I recreated in Sketch.

Final iteration of concept map
Final iteration of concept map

While this is my most recent iteration, I’m still not satisfied that the map goes deep enough to show what I know about this space in an interesting and provocative way. Perhaps some feedback in class today can push another iteration closer to the mark before I begin the next phase of applying semantic and temporal zooms.