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IES Grant

Title: Creating a Usable Environment to Teach Argument Comprehension and Production Skills
Center: NCER Year: 2005
Principal Investigator: Britt, Anne Awardee: Northern Illinois University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $574,931
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305H050133

Purpose: In earlier work, this research team found significant deficits in college students' ability to comprehend, evaluate, and produce arguments. Argumentation is a central component of social and personal decision-making, as well as a fundamental skill required by many postsecondary class assignments and by entrance exams to graduate-level education (e.g., SAT, LSAT, and GRE). However, many postsecondary students leave high school unable to comprehend or write arguments. The researchers' previous work led to the development of three tutorials to provide instruction and practice with argumentation. In this project, the researchers' goal was to further understand students' argumentation strengths and weaknesses and to refine and test computer-based instructional modules to improve students' argument comprehension and production skills. The modules created by the researchers would be available online as stand-alone lessons and as a course presented in the context of a simple role-playing game. The final product would include teacher support materials.

Structured Abstract


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

Sample: Participating students are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. The high school students are enrolled in history courses.

Intervention: Instructional modules focus on teaching students the 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 phase 1, the researchers examine how students process counterarguments and rebuttals, how to improve coherence in students' argumentative essays, and how students progressively acquire argument skills. In phase 2, the researchers examine how students process complex arguments and how they process common argument schemas. Across all three phases of the projects, the research team is evaluating the effectiveness of the instructional modules at improving the targeted argument skills. In phase 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.

Related IES Projects: Improving Students' Comprehension and Construction of Arguments (R305H020039)


ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Select Publications

Journal articles

Britt, M.A., and Gabrys, G. (2004). Collecting Responses Through Web Page Drag and Drop. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 36(1): 52–68.

Britt, M.A., Kurby, C.A., Dandotkar, S., and Wolfe, C.R. (2008). I Agreed With What? Memory for Simple Argument Claims. Discourse Processes, 45(1): 52–84.

Durik, A.M., Britt, M.A., Reynolds, R., and Storey, J.K. (2008). The Effects of Hedges in Persuasive Arguments: A Nuanced Analysis of Language. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 27(3): 217–234.

Larson, A.A., Britt, M.A., and Kurby, C. (2009). Improving Students' Evaluation of Informal Arguments. Journal of Experimental Education, 77(4): 339–365.

Larson, M., Britt, M.A., and Larson, A. (2004). Disfluencies in Comprehending Argumentative Texts. Reading Psychology, 25(3): 205–224.

Wolfe, C.R., and Britt, M.A. (2008). The Locus of the Myside Bias in Written Argumentation. Thinking and Reasoning, 14(1): 1–27.

Wolfe, C.R., Britt, M.A., and Butler, J.A. (2009). Argumentation Schema and the Myside Bias in Written Argumentation. Written Communication, 26(2): 183–209.

Wolfe, C.R., Britt, M.A., Petrovic, M., Albrecht, M., and Kopp, K. (2009). The Efficacy of a Web-Based Counterargument Tutor. Behavior Research Methods, 41(3): 691–698.