eCoaching Tip 23 Strategies for Making Your Students’ Knowledge Visible

Sept 29, 2006 (Lightly revised July 6, 2012)

E-Coaching Tip 23:  Strategies for Making Your Students’ Knowledge Visible

Getting to know your students’ “state of knowledge” is an ongoing part of any teaching experience. Here are three learning experiences that you can use to elicit data showing students’ progress towards understanding core concepts and related content.

Learning Suggestion 1: Developing a set of interview questions

As part of a reading, content, or research assignment, ask your students to develop a set of interview questions for an expert, a manager or researcher.  You might ask them to develop one, two or three questions. Here are some instructions that you might use:

  • What questions do you wish you could ask of this expert, manager, leader or researcher? Your questions can focus on a particular area such as solving crises, managing innovation, or handling personnel issues; or your questions can be more theoretical or philosophical in nature.

Developing questions requires leaners to pause, reflect and assimilate knowledge or content.  Your students can post these questions to a discussion forum or to an interview blog. This can be a good exercise for teams of two students.  It is also a good assignment to subdivide into different topics for virtual or real interviewees. These questions help you to “see” into students’ heads and observe how students are developing their own state of knowledge about the course content.

Learning Suggestion 2:  Identifying Patterns, Relationships, and Linkages

Making incoming unfamiliar knowledge one’s own requires linking ideas and the new knowledge to existing areas of our physical brain and knowledge base.  In other words, learning requires change and growth within our brains, the linking of ideas and the observing and identifying of patterns.  Learning involves chunking and categorizing information for the long term.  Here are some questions that might elicit this type of knowledge work in your students.

  • What do the ideas in _____(Chapter, reading, discussion, podcast, etc ____________ remind you of? What relationships are fundamental to these ideas?  What patterns, if any, are you observing?   Are these patterns or relationships present in other recent events, or work experiences?

These questions help you to “see” into students’ heads and observe how students are putting things together, and whether they are creating a useful and accessible body of knowledge.

Learning Suggestion 3:  Identifying Insights — Watching our Own Minds

Part of being an effective life-long learner is an awareness of how our minds work.  Developing this awareness can be a stimulating and exciting complement to learning content knowledge. Here is a set of questions that you can use to help students build some self-awareness of how and when insights happen and what are some of the necessary work or gathering data and discrete pieces of information to help make that happen.

  • What insights or “ah-ha” experiences have you had in the last two weeks? What do you know/understand now that you did not have at your intellectual readiness” just a couple of weeks ago? Can you capture the 3-4 elements needed to help you pull an insight together?

These questions help your students to become more conscious of their own thinking and detecting processes, of what it takes to make a picture, or concept whole and useful.

Visible Knowledge and Concept Mapping

In preparing this ecoaching tip I wanted to focus on strategies for “making knowledge visible.”  I believe that finding ways of making our knowledge more visible to ourselves and others is a powerful tool for examining our own knowledge base and examining what our students are thinking as well.  The goal of understanding what we know and somehow mapping that knowledge has generated a number of concept-mapping or mind-mapping tools.  My top two current favorites are the freeCmaps Tools and the commercial Inspiration.

Here is the  definition of mind-map— as of July 9 2012 — from Wikipedia, which can be a good starting-point for thinking about how such a tool might work with your particular particular content.

A mind-map is a diagramused to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize,structureand classifyideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, and decision making.

A mind map is similar to a semantic networkor cognitive mapbut there are no formal restrictions on the kinds of links used.

For more ideas on how to how and when to use concept maps, you can check out Tip 54 Course Wrapping with Concept Mapping — A Strategy for Capturing Course Content


Edutech Wiki (2011) Concept Map Retrieved July 9 2012 from  This page lists categories of min-mapping and concept-mapping tools along with an extensive bibliography

Eppler, Martin J. (2001). Making Knowledge Visible through Intranet Knowledge Maps: Concepts, Elements, Cases. Paper presented at the 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-34)-Volume 4, 2001  Retrieved July 9 2012 from


Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by