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Northern Illinois University Project Abstract
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Principal Investigator: Anne Britt
Title: Creating a Usable Environment to Teach Argument Comprehension and Production Skills

Purpose: Argumentation is a central component of social and personal decision-making, as well as a fundamental skill required by many class assignments and by entrance exams to postsecondary education (e.g., SAT, LSAT, and GRE). While our educational system expects students to acquire the ability to comprehend and produce written arguments, ensuring this outcome is not the purview of any specific discipline. Not surprisingly, many students leave high school unable to comprehend and write arguments. In earlier work, this research team found significant deficits in college students’ ability to comprehend, evaluate, and produce arguments. The source of these deficits was traced, and three tutorials were developed that provide instruction and practice to improve these argument skills. Each tutorial has been shown to be effective in overcoming particular deficits. The purpose of this current project is to understand students’ argumentation strengths and weaknesses and to develop and evaluate computer-based instructional modules to improve their argument comprehension and production skills. These modules will be available online as stand-alone lessons and as a course presented in the context of a simple role playing game. The final product will include teacher support materials.

Setting: Participating students attend Northern Illinois University, Miami University of Ohio, and a high school in the greater Chicago area.

Population: Participating students are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. The high school students are enrolled in History courses.

Intervention: Instructional modules focus on teaching students component skills necessary to understand and produce arguments. Each instructional module takes 20 to 35 minutes to complete, and is available online as stand-alone lessons. At the completion of the research project, the instructional modules will be integrated into a course on argument skills presented in the context of a simple role playing game.

Research Design and Methods: A series of experiments are being conducted. In Year 1, the researchers examine how students process counter-arguments and rebuttals; how to improve coherence in students’ argumentative essays; and how students progressively acquire argument skills. In Year 2, the researchers examine how students process complex arguments and how they process common argument schemas. Across all 3 years of the projects, the research team is evaluating the effectiveness of the instructional modules at improving the targeted argument skills. In Year 3, the modules will be integrated into a simple role playing game, and will be evaluated.

Control Condition: Laboratory projects include appropriate control conditions that vary as a function of the argument skill being examined.

Key Measures: Experimenter-developed measures are being used.

Data Analytic Strategy: Analysis of variance techniques and t-tests are being used to examine data gathered in the experimental work.  Analysis of variance techniques are being used to assess the effectiveness of the individual instructional modules and the integrated version.

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Last Modified: 11/08/2005