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Sourcing while reading divergent expert accounts: Pathways from views of knowing to written argumentation


Sourcing is vital for knowledge construction from online information sources, yet learners may find it difficult to engage in effective sourcing. Sourcing can be particularly challenging when lay readers encounter conflicting expert accounts of controversial topics, a situation which is increasingly common when learning online. The aim of this study was to examine learners’ spontaneous sourcing as they read divergent expert accounts of a socio-scientific controversy in order to map prevalent sourcing practices and to identify specific challenges. Additionally, the study explored the role of learners’ epistemic perspectives in sourcing, and examined the relations between sourcing while reading and subsequent written argumentation. Sixty-one university students thought aloud while reading four conflicting blog-posts about a socio-scientific controversy and then wrote arguments regarding the controversy. The findings revealed a wide range of sourcing practices. Some participants did not explicitly engage in sourcing while reading, whereas others formed detailed source representations, source-content links, and source–source links. Although most participants constructed source representations, these representations were infrequently acted upon. Multiplism was negatively related to sourcing and positively related to reliance on the reader as a source of knowledge. Higher levels of sourcing were related to more complex argumentation, increased claim justification, and better integration of sources in participants’ arguments. The theoretical and instructional implications of these findings are explored.

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A preliminary report of the study was published in the proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (Barzilai et al. 2014). Permission to reuse parts of that report was kindly granted by the International Society of the Learning Sciences.


The study was funded by a grant to Yoram Eshet-Alkalai and Sarit Barzilai from the Open University of Israel’s research fund. Additional funding for the study was awarded to Sarit Barzilai by the I-CORE Program of the Israel Council of Higher Education and the Israel Science Foundation, grant 1716/12.

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Barzilai, S., Tzadok, E. & Eshet-Alkalai, Y. Sourcing while reading divergent expert accounts: Pathways from views of knowing to written argumentation. Instr Sci 43, 737–766 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-015-9359-4

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  • Digital literacy
  • Multiple document comprehension
  • Sourcing
  • Source evaluation
  • Epistemic thinking