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This chapter reviews collaborative argumentation, where a community of learners works together to advance the collective state of knowledge through debate, engagement, and dialogue. Engagement in collaborative argumentation can help students learn to think critically and independently about important issues and contested values. Students must externalize their ideas and metacognitively reflect on their developing understandings. This chapter summarizes the history of argumentation theory; how arguing can contribute to learning through making knowledge explicit, conceptual change, collaboration, and reasoning skills; how argumentation skill develops in childhood; and how argumentation varies in different cultural and social contexts. The chapter concludes by describing a variety of tools that scaffold effective argumentation, including through computer-mediated communication forums and argumentation maps.
Many people think that arguing interferes with learning. They link argumentation to a certain type of oppositional argument that is increasingly prevalent in our media culture. Tannen (1998) analyzed the aggressive types of argument that are frequently seen on talk shows and in the political sphere, where representatives of two opposed viewpoints spout talking points at each other. In these forms of argumentation, the goal is not to work together toward a common position, but simply to score points. All teachers and parents have seen children engaged in this type of argumentation, and most would probably agree that it has little to contribute to education.
The learning sciences are studying a different kind of argumentation, which I call collaborative argumentation. For example, collaborative argumentation plays a central role in science; science advances not by the accumulation of facts, but by debate and argumentation (Kuhn, 1962, 1970; Bell, 2004). Even when two scientists disagree, they still share the common values of science and both of them are interested in achieving the same goals. Argumentation in science is not oppositional and aggressive; it is a form of collaborative discussion in which both parties are working together to resolve an issue, and in which both scientists expect to find agreement by the end of the argument. Exposure to collaborative argumentation can help students learn to think critically and independently about important issues and contested values.
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