Engaging Students in an Argument- Mapping-Centered Online Discussion Forum

Mon, 29 Jul 2019 13:11:37 GMT · by timo · 0 comments »

A Guest post from Jonathan Reid Surovell Texas State University and APUS

There’s empirical evidence that argument mapping’s well established efficacy for teaching critical thinking carries over to online courses (Dwyer, Hogan and Stewart 2012).

This evidence comes from observing a course in which argument mapping was taught primarily through exercises that students submit to the instructor. But it’s worth exploring other ways to get online students mapping arguments. One of the main challenges of online teaching is fostering a sense of community through student-student interaction. Weekly discussion forums are for this reason widely used in online course design. But many instructors may feel that assigning too many individual exercises leaves them with too little of their students’ time to also assign substantial weekly discussion forum posts.

Here’s a template for a discussion-forum prompt that aims to meet both of these objectives at once: it marries argument mapping (parts 2, 4, and 5 of the prompt) with elements of the Kolb cycle, an influential approach to increasing student engagement (part 1).

I use this prompt in a first-year philosophy course satisfying a general education requirement.

My impression is that prompts based on this template have produced much better student work and engagement than my earlier discussion-forum prompts, which lacked either an argument mapping or a Kolb cycle component. I’ve found that encouraging students to start by connecting the readings to their own experiences does get them more engaged and interested, as Kolb claimed. (That’s not a surprising finding, but I didn’t make it until I heard about Kolb.) And I find that using argument mapping enables me to more effectively communicate that I want a certain amount of structure in students’ own arguments—not just a sentence or two—and that this leads students to actually produce more structured arguments.

For step 2 of the prompt template, the instructor will have to provide a pair of passages, drawn from the assigned readings, that lend themselves to being mapped. This is labor-intensive but worth it.

Rationale map 1:

Rationale map 2:

I included part 5, which instructs students to reflect on their mistakes, because we know that students benefit from re-thinking their work after submitting it. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the exercises in the course studied by Dwyer, Hogan, and Stewart (2012), which produced impressive gains in students’ critical thinking skills, instructed students to do this kind of self-reflection.

Works Cited

Dwyer, Christopher P, Michael J Hogan, and Ian Stewart. "An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments." Metacognition Learning 7 (2012): 219-44.


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