An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments

Abstract

The current research examined the effects of a critical thinking (CT) e-learning course taught through argument mapping (AM) on measures of CT ability. Seventy-four undergraduate psychology students were allocated to either an AM-infused CT e-learning course or a no instruction control group and were tested both before and after an 8-week intervention period on CT ability using the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment. Results revealed that participation in the AM-infused CT course significantly enhanced overall CT ability and all CT sub-scale abilities from pre- to post-testing and that post-test performance was positively correlated with motivation towards learning and dispositional need for cognition. In addition, AM-infused CT course participants exhibited a significantly larger gain in both overall CT and in argument analysis (a CT subscale) than controls. There were no effects of training on either motivation for learning or need for cognition. However, both the latter variables were correlated with CT ability at post-testing. Results are discussed in light of research and theory on the best practices of providing CT instruction through argument mapping and e-learning environments.

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Appendix A: sample feedback from lecture 3.1

Appendix A: sample feedback from lecture 3.1

Thank you very much to all of you who did the exercises. Below you will find some feedback on exercises from Lecture 3.1.

Exercise: “Ireland should adopt Capital Punishment”

Below please find the argument we have extracted from the text you were asked to analyse. Please compare and contrast your argument map with this one. Also, please take note of where you may have differed in your placement of some propositions and why you made the analysis decisions you made.

figurea

You were also asked to answer a few questions based on this argument map.

Question 1 asked:

Does the author sufficiently support their claims? Are the author’s claims relevant? Does the author attempt to refute their own arguments (i.e., disconfirm their belief)?

Some of you answered that:

The author did not sufficiently support his/her claims because most of the propositions used were based on personal opinion (i.e. there was an insufficient amount of evidence to suggest that Ireland should adopt capital punishment). The author did attempt to refute their own claims, however, did so poorly in that he/she only used personal opinion or ‘common belief’ statements.

The author sufficiently supported their claims as they were sufficiently backed up by other supports. These claims are all relevant to the argument, specifically the central claim. The author does not attempt to disconfirm his beliefs because he sticks to his guns that capital punishment should be adopted.

The truth of the matter is that the author did not sufficiently support his/her claims. Of the 8 reasons he provided, only 3 were based on either expert opinion, statistics from research or research data.

All the arguments made were relevant to the central claim.

The author did attempt to refute his/her claims (i.e. disconfirm their own belief), as on 3 occasions, some form of objection to the reasoning was presented. However, the objections used were not examples of high quality evidence.

Question 2 asked:

Are there other arguments you would include?

Some of you answered that:

Some argument should be made in terms of when the death penalty should/would be used, such as in cases of mental problems or a conviction of manslaughter.

Some argument should consider the nature of the crime, such as how the murder took place –details should be considered.

Everyone has a right to life, even murderers.

Law abiding citizens might grow to fear the government as they would now have more control over you.

Please think about these ideas and claims and also think about how you could possibly integrate them into the argument map. In addition, think about how you might support or object to these new propositions.

Question 3 asked:

Does any proposition or any set of propositions suggest to you that the author is biased in any way?

Some of you answered:

The author is biased because he/she presents more reasons for why we should adopt capital punishment than for not adopting capital punishment.

The author was not biased because though he/she did present more reasons in favour of capital punishment, they were mostly based on personal opinion and were adequately objected to.

The author does certainly appear to be biased. However, some of you argued that it is because the author stated that ‘Ireland should adopt capital punishment’, thus making it a biased argument from the outset. This is not true, because the author may have made the same claim and then simply presented 5 objections at level 1 in the argument structure (as opposed to 4 supports). Remember, there is more to determining bias than simply assimilating what the central claim is; what is more important is how the author attempts to justify or refute this claim. The reason why this argument is biased is because the author only presents some arguably credible evidence (in 3 cases) to support the claim. In other cases where the author makes a claim and objects to it, both the reasons and objections are based on personal or common belief. This is done to disguise the author’s bias. In the cases where the author presents credible evidence, there are no objections.

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Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J. & Stewart, I. An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments. Metacognition Learning 7, 219–244 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11409-012-9092-1

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Keywords

  • Argument mapping
  • Critical thinking
  • e-Learning
  • Disposition
  • Cognitive load