!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Argument Maps

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Argument Maps

Tim van Gelder, Principal Fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Melbourne, and CEO of Austhink, an Australian software development and consulting company, and Andy Bulka, Technical Director and Software Architect at Austhink, have developed a software tool called Rationale that can help people you're training practice critical thinking skills.

example of a reasoning map

Rationale is based on the concept of argument mapping — diagramming of reasoning and argument (in other words, diagramming the logical structure of an argument).

You can see an overview of Rationale's critical thinking applications here. The applications include:
  • Building hierarchical grouping maps to organize information that comes out of discussions such as brainstorming.

  • Supporting decision making by building structured reasoning maps that show reasons for and against a position, along with the strength of each argument. (The graphic above displays an example of a reasoning map.)

  • Supporting analysis by building more complex multi-premise argument maps. "Display multiple premises within a single reason or objection, represent support for inferences as opposed to premises, and evaluate premises separately from the reasons or objections to which they belong."

  • Creating a structured essay outline from an argument map.
Note that you don't need to purchase Rationale in order to make use of argument mapping techniques. Austhink provides a set of six well-organized tutorials that do a good job of covering the concepts and techniques.

The important thing is to recognize the power of practice for improving critical thinking skills. Van Gelder argues (pdf),
CT [critical thinking] is a complex, higher-order cognitive skill. We know from cognitive science that cognitive skills, like skills of any sort, improve with practice. We also know that practice should be motivated, graduated, guided, scaffolded, and there should be lots of feedback. Further, for CT the practice should be practice-for-transfer. ... [S]kills acquired in one domain or context often do not carry over to other situations. Improving general CT skills ... involves practising transfer itself — that is, carrying concepts and skills over to new problems in diverse domains and contexts. This is 'quality practice'.

... Critical thinking skills only improve with quality practice. Key evidence comes from studies of students engaging in intensive quality practice. We rigorously pre- and post-tested students who used software designed to facilitate quality practice. Their mean gain in critical thinking over one semester was almost twice the expected gain over three years of undergraduate study. Properly designed instruction can therefore make a real difference.
Van Gelder's message is one trainers should take to heart.


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