Critical self-exploration through mapping exercises as a tool of creating collective understanding

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Sharing visualized maps about your profession. Photo: Enlighten Image: Jaeseong Park

Mapping is an easy and quick exercise where participants can visualize their skills, identities, or goals with cartographic ideas. Mapping also enables us to visualize difficult and complex content in an informative and compact way. We all can create maps and there are wide possibilities of choosing materials for creation of maps from drawing to sculpturing and motion expression to sound journey. Maps show networks of pathways and zones together with intuitive self-exploratory findings.

I see a connection between pedagogical events and mapping where goals are chosen based on participants’ needs and hopes. Mapping can be a way of creating collective understanding starting from individual mapping exercises and sharing your ideas with other participants. Similarities, differences, and crossroads visualized in maps help us to understand how we and others think and behave. It helps us understand what values and motives drives us in life and learning.

Mapping has been used during Master’s studies of Nordic Visual Studies and Art Education (NoVA) many times. In the first symposium at Aalborg University in Copenhagen in the autumn 2018 we were mapping the campus area and our visual interpretations. Mapping was also a useful tool in project fieldwork in  course of Visual and Performative Ethnography offered by Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design (Stockholm) in spring 2019. Mapping was again used at Aalto University’s intensive course NoVA lab explores: Art, Education and Entrepreneurship in September 2019. 

Workshop teacher Tero Hytonen introducing mapping. Photo: Enlighten Image: Jaeseong Park

One of the course’s workshop combining mapping, visual strategy thinking and storytelling was taught by Tero Hytönen, Aalto University alumni (Art Education), dancer and choreography student. Tero is interested in multidisciplinary approaches, relationships between people, and corporations, and how artistic initiatives can bring something new into these environments. He wonders how could we structure the world in a new way.

I interviewed two peer students from the course and took notes from my own experiences after Tero’s workshop and its mapping exercises. Based on my data I tried to understand how we experienced mapping exercises and how we are going to apply mapping methods in our work as art educators and visual culture professionals.

Maps visualizing connections inside of your profession. Photo: Enlighten Image: Jaeseong Park

We started a mapping exercise by visualizing our professional skills and continued by visualizing pathways of our career. It was possible to work the whole time with same map or create a new one in different tasks. After each individual task we viewed other’s works and discussed in small groups about our maps. 

Based on my micro-research in the course I found that mapping exercises worked as tools for self-exploration in interactive ways. Drawing or making three-dimensional maps brought into our minds 1) memories from previous artistic acts, 2) helped us to clarify our professional development and also 3) got us a bit confused of what we want share with others and what we leave outside of maps. Based on my data, mapping was either a new or familiar working method. I found that mapping could be applied in professional practice in multiple ways: 1) mapping could be a useful method to use with people who are not familiar with art or artistic practice, 2) with children maps should be built layer after layer in the same map and 3) mapping can be a quick and easy way to get to know your team and create collective understanding about the issue you are working with. 

NoVA Master study emphasizes critical pedagogy with social and cultural awareness. I personally see mapping as a great tool to create social and cultural sustainability in international pedagogical environments. Mapping could be used with learners of different ages in a variety of contexts from formal or non-formal schools to other learning environments. It’s also a valuable tool in the environments where learners are using alternative communication methods instead of speaking. I see social and cultural sustainability as one of the core values of future life because of its way to maintain active dialogue between humans from different cultures.

In my opinion mapping may also be a challenging tool to use because it enables very deep self-exploration. When we work with self-exploration it is always possible to face past locks or frustrations faced in life. I think that it requires sensibility from educator to observe your learners carefully and react supportively to their upcoming needs and feelings through mapping and self-exploration. 

For educators mapping can be a great way to visualize and understand you professional development and potential. It’s crucial not to forget sharing mapping experiences with others because this way you can widen your perspective and critically evaluate your own and other’s acts. By critical we mean the willingness to understand values and motives behind different ways of thinking and behaving. I believe educators should always test teaching methods themselves to understand possible risks of learning tasks and get personal experience of how learning processes may have an effect on participants. I highly suggest all educators experiment in using mapping as one of their teaching methods in the world of changing events. 

NoVA lab explores: Art Education and Entrepreneurship course group, September 2019. Photo: Enlighten Image: Jaeseong Park

Keywords: mapping, self-exploration, collective understanding, art education, art educator


Hytönen , T & Uimonen, A. (2018, April 18). Yhdessä kysyen – työparin taiteilija ja konsultti. Retrieved from URL

TAG Fine Arts. The Art of Mapping. Retrieved from URL:

Portrait of university student

Written by Anni Rupponen
NoVA Master Student from Aalto University

Critical self-exploration through mapping exercises as a tool of creating collective understanding

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