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Arguing to Learn

By Murray Bourne, 30 Dec 2005

"Confronting Cognitions in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Environments"
Volume 1, Andriessen, J., Baker, M., and Suthers, D. (Ed) Kluwer Academic Publishers, ©2003.

arguing to learn

Summary Review

We do not learn much by just listening to a teacher. We learn more by:

  • Solving relevant, challenging and interesting problems
  • By teaching others
  • By having to defend a point of view

The book Arguing to Learn describes several experiments that used computer-based discussion environments to promote learning by argument.

The authors demonstrate how literacy levels improve when students are required to discuss controversial topics on-line. Nothing new there, but many of the experiments required students to argue a view that they did not personally hold, a situation that often occurs in a formal debate. The students found value in seeing things from other points of view. There was also value in having a well-structured learning environment, rather than a free-for-all chat session.

In Jermann and Dillenbourg's paper, students were required to complete a set of questions in pairs. They were required to agree on an answer and to state reasons why. There was a noticeable improvement in the quality of their answers because of the ensuing argument/discussion.

Some thoughts on this:

  • We don't use argument enough in classrooms because we are so busy trying to cover the curriculum
  • We are afraid of confrontation in the classroom and tend to minimise disagreements (a lost opportunity)
  • How would argument-based learning work in an Asian context, where the important cultural elements are harmony and group concensus?

Learning by argument has a lot of potential and is something that is not utilised enough in e-learning. Food for thought...

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