Online argumentation

Past research suggests that student writing typically expresses what a student favors about one position or perspective. Students may string together a set of reasoned statements, but have been found to be careful “not to include anything that anyone might challenge” (see the work of Deanna Kuhn and Amanda Crowell, 2011 for further reading – full citation at the bottom of this page).

Might a traditional focus on writing and oratory to persuade (e.g. speech; formal debate) be encouraging students to develop single-minded perspectives?

In what ways might a strong focus on persuasive argument have unintended consequences when transferred to online environments, and also embody norms and dispositions that are inadequate for interactions, values, and thinking in the 21st century?

How might the use of online discussion platforms be integrated into everyday literacy work to provide opportunities to practice argumentation instead of persuasion?

With the above questions and previous findings in mind, the Developing in Digital Worlds team developed an Argumentation Tool (AT) for teachers to use in classrooms with students. The AT is designed to promote students’ argumentation skills through consideration and integration of available perspectives to arrive at a more informed and nuanced conclusion.

It consists of a sequence of teaching activities using Googles Suite of applications including a:

  • Slide presentation – to structure the sequence of activities via hyperlinks;
  • Text set – sheet of evidence from multiple sources and perspectives;
  • Online discussion board – to post written argumentation responses.

 Click on the slide decks below to access a sample of each argumentation tool.











We chose an authentic, local topic that was sure to provoke different perspectives, and asked students to consider the issue from multiple sides before posting their views on Google Groups. The format of asynchronous written posts was very successful and could be used with any online discussion board medium, such as wikis or forums.

The topic for the first iteration of the tool was Taylor Swift’s 2015 visit to New Zealand in which she filmed the music video Out of the Woods. When filming part of the video on Bethells Beach in Auckland, her production company caused upset to the public when they allegedly took 12 vehicles onto the beach instead of the permitted 2 vehicles. The extra vehicles were said to have threatened the safety of the dotterels who live there (a species of bird that is already endangered).

After reading about Taylor Swift’s visit from multiple news sources, students were required to engage in a Google Groups online discussion board with their classmates and think critically about how the New Zealand media portrayed the song star’s visit. The activity proved to be challenging and motivating for students, helping them to practice the cognitive and social skills needed for a 21st century education.

The second iteration of the tool used the topic of “Predator Free 2050,” and asked students to consider whether animals that are called “pests” by predator free groups should be treated with more respect. To the right is a screenshot of the Google Groups discussion board.


Features of the AT approach include:

  • a contentious claim or prompt (Note: this is a pivotal feature and must offer thoughtful provocation and high likelihood of disagreement);
  • informational resources to provoke student interest in the contentious topic (Note: the presentation has been designed to facilitate efficient replacement of new content for recursive use);
  • An online discussion board set up to receive posted comments by students in response to the contentious claim or proposition statement;
  • Teacher guides and suggestions for follow on activity design.


What is quality argumentation? A more formal definition

Argumentation is making and responding to claims supported by logical reasoning, credible evidence, and evaluated alternatives in order to reach informed conclusions. More specifically, it is the ability to substantiate, evaluate, and integrate claims, and counter-claims to support rational decision making or belief.

Most of us are familiar with the term argument. An argument is a static product (monologic vs dialogic). The purpose of an argument is to convince or persuade someone of something. For example,

  • in education settings: speeches; literary essay; scientific report; persuasive advertising
  • in home settings: parental instructions; teenage curfews

We are exposed to the process of argumentation much less frequently. Argumentation is a dialogic process, and its purpose is knowledge building. For example,

  • in social contexts (e.g. person-to-person) we engage in collaborative reasoning
  • in individual situations such as a piece of writing, of when thinking, there can be integration and critical incorporation of other voices, reasons, positions, and evidence (e.g. in ‘one’s head’).
Why argumentation?

Argumentation is considered a 21st century skill. With the abundance of information available at their fingertips, students growing up in the digital age need to be able to navigate and evaluate information and arguments. This requires weighing up contradictory claims, incorporate diverse evidence, and reason alongside peers. The collaborative nature of argumentation helps students to develop perspective taking and reflection, as well as critical thinking.

Further reading references:

Kuhn, D., & Crowell, A. (2011). Dialogic Argumentation as a Vehicle for Developing Young Adolescents’ Thinking. Psychological Science, 22 (4), 545-552 DOI: 10.1177/0956797611402512

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