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Promoting Critical, Elaborative Discussions through a Collaboration Script and Argument maps.

Oliver Scheuer; Bruce McLaren; Armin Weinberger; Sabine Niebuhr
In: Instructional Science, Vol. 42, Pages 127-157, Springer, 2012.


During the past two decades a variety of approaches to support argumentation learning in computer-based learning environments have been investigated. We present an approach that combines argumentation diagramming and collaboration scripts, two methods successfully used in the past individually. The rationale for combining the methods is to capitalize on their complementary strengths: Argument diagramming has been shown to help students construct, reconstruct, and reflect on arguments. However, while diagrams can serve as valuable resources, or even guides, during conversations, they do not provide explicit support for the discussion itself. Collaboration scripts, on the other hand, can provide direct support for the discussion, e.g., through sentence openers that encourage high quality discussion moves. Yet, students often struggle to comply with the rules of a script, as evidenced by both the misuse and nonuse of sentence openers. To try to benefit from the advantages of both of these instructional techniques, while minimizing their disadvantages, we combined and experimented with them within a single instructional environment. In particular, we designed a collaboration script that guides student dyads through a process of analyzing, interrelating and evaluating opposing positions on a contentious topic with a goal to jointly generate a well-reasoned conclusion. We compare a baseline version of the script, one that only involves argument diagramming, with an enhanced version that employs an additional peer critique script, implemented with sentence openers, in which student pairs were assigned the roles of a proponent and a constructive critic. The enhanced version of the script led to positive effects: student discussions contained a higher number of elaborative moves and students assessed their argumentation learning more positively.