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Fostering Argumentation in Seminar Discussions on Facebook: The Effects of Group Awareness Tools and Argumentation Scripts.

  • Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz Saaarbrücken

Abstract and Figures

Social Media like Facebook have become new arenas for argumentation and may provide an opportunity to facilitate, and understand argumentative processes on a large scale over longer periods of time. Through apps, group awareness tools and argumentation scripts can be implemented in social networking sites, to provide additional, graphically visualized information, and prompt learners to formulate or review sound arguments. Data can provide insights on how argumentation scripts are internalized over time. This 2×2 field study (N=105) aims to extend knowledge about supporting argumentation processes. It examines how Facebook can be harnessed for argumentative learning through group awareness tools and argumentation scripts; we found effects for both conditions on processes of argumentative knowledge construction and domain-specific knowledge outcomes. We show and discuss how productive argumentation practices are increasingly shared among a class of learners over the course of nine weeks when appropriately supported.
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Fostering Argumentation in Seminar Discussions on Facebook: The Effects of
Group Awareness Tools and Argumentation Scripts
Thomas Puhl, Dimitra Tsovaltzi, Armin Weinberger
Saarland University
paper presentation Earli Sig 20 & 26
Social Media like Facebook have become new arenas for argumentation and may provide an opportunity to
facilitate, and understand argumentative processes on a large scale over longer periods of time. Through apps,
group awareness tools and argumentation scripts can be implemented in social networking sites, to provide
additional, graphically visualized information, and prompt learners to formulate or review sound arguments.
Data can provide insights on how argumentation scripts are internalized over time. This 2×2 field study (N=105)
aims to extend knowledge about supporting argumentation processes. It examines how Facebook can be
harnessed for argumentative learning through group awareness tools and argumentation scripts; we found effects
for both conditions on processes of argumentative knowledge construction and domain-specific knowledge
outcomes. We show and discuss how productive argumentation practices are increasingly shared among a class
of learners over the course of nine weeks when appropriately supported.
Extended summary
a) Theory
Social networking sites (SNS) afford collaborative processes that may be harnessed for learning (Greenhow &
Robelia, 2009). SNS may offer a rich argumentative context that can pronounce processes of argumentative
knowledge construction (AKC). AKC is the deliberate practice of elaborating learning material by constructing
formally and semantically sound arguments with the goal of gaining argumentative and domain-specific
knowledge (Andriessen, 2006). Learners typically have problems to formulate sound arguments (Kuhn, 1991)
and with SNS being prone to trivial talk, AKC in SNS may greatly benefit from instructional approaches of
CSCL (Tsovaltzi, Puhl, Judele & Weinberger, 2014). Fostering these skills in online environments proves a
challenge. Educational technology, such as computer-supported collaboration scripts, argument diagrams, or
awareness tools seem to foster formal argumentation, but not domain-specific knowledge (Wecker & Fischer,
2014). Potentially, some of these approaches are too coercive (e.g. scripts) for learners to actively self-regulate
their AKC processes, and others too subtle (e.g. awareness tools) to have an effect on learners' self-regulation.
Can SNS, like Facebook, host argumentative knowledge construction? How can the combination of rather
coercive scripts, and less coercive group awareness tools (GATs), foster the development of learners’ AKC?
Argumentation scripts are a prominent approach to foster AKC in CSCL environments (Noroozi,
Weinberger, Biemans, Mulder, & Chizari, 2012). Scripts are socio-cognitive structures that specify, sequence,
and distribute learners roles and activities in collaborative learning scenarios, e.g., by prompting learners to
warrant their claims (Weinberger, Stegmann & Fischer, 2010). Scripts can activate existing internal scripts or
develop new procedural knowledge (Fischer, Kollar, Stegmann, & Wecker, 2013) and substantially improve
processes and outcomes of joint argumentative knowledge construction. Internal scripts are already represented
in the learners’ cognitive system that are prone to change and adaptation. External scripts suggest collaborative
processes and can change the learners’ behavior over time through internalization (Kollar, Fischer & Slotta,
GATs aim to foster domain-specific knowledge by visualizing and feeding back information on possibly covert
group processes and states to learners, such as how knowledge is distributed within a group (Janssen &
Bodemer, 2013). GATs can enhance the collaboration process, especially by highlighting controversy in
discussions, and seem to impact socio-emotional and motivational group processes that are meant to support
AKC (Buder & Bodemer, 2008). Group awareness may foster socio-cognitive conflict though social tensions (e.
g., why is my position different to others?) and personal dissonance (e. g., how can I bridge two contradicting
views?) and there are indications of positive effects of GATs on learning gains (Sangin et al., 2011).
While scripts can model adequate argumentative moves, GATs can make lines of ongoing
argumentation and attitudes salient. While GATs rely on high self-regulation skills of learners, scripts externally
regulate argumentative practices. However, there is little knowledge on how GATs and scripts support
internalization of argumentative practices over time.
We investigate the effects of a GAT and an argumentation script on processes and outcomes of AKC.
We conjecture that over time GAT and script will interact in fostering argumentation and domain-specific
b) Method
In a 2×2 quasi-experimental field-study (N=105) with factors GAT and argumentation script, German teacher
trainees participated in weekly seminars on Communication and Interaction, where theories on communication
were presented and discussed. After every seminar session, students had to fill out a questionnaire about their
communication attitude. Seminar groups were accompanied by Facebook groups, where students received tasks
over a time period of 8 weeks, in which they were to discuss problem cases based on the theories they are being
taught in the face-to-face seminar. At the end of the semester, all students took an exam to measure domain-
specific knowledge.
GAT: Students in the condition with GAT support reflected on their communication attitude as a teacher
by answering a case-based communication questionnaire with cases from social interactions in the school.
Moreover, the questions differed with respect to whether the emphasis was on multi-perspective / flexible
attitudes vs. goal-oriented / structured attitudes. The result of the questionnaire was presented to the experimental
groups with GAT within Facebook as a graphic visualization of their own position regarding their
communication attitude in relation to others, following the ArgueGraph script (Jermann & Dillenbourg 2002).
Argumentation script: Students in the condition with script-based support received a weekly
argumentation script in the form of feedback to arguments posted in the Facebook group. They had to pick and
“like” the best argument. Feedback was given to every group for the most liked argument and also for the best
argument in the opinion of the teacher and evaluated the epistemic (theoretical concepts and relations) and the
formal (reasoning and evidence) quality of argumentation. The expert analysis also indicated whether an
important part of the argument was missing or illustrated how a sound argument should look like. Students had
to read and compare the feedback and build sound arguments for next week’s task based on the best practice
Instruments: Domain-specific knowledge was assessed by the course exam containing definitions, facts,
and higher order discursive processes like theory-based interpretations and argumentations. The knowledge test
included 10 multiple choice items and 13 open questions with a high inter-rater reliability k=.88, p=000. The
internal consistency of the knowledge test was good (α = .69). Process analysis was based on an adapted version
of Weinberger & Fischer's framework (2006) on multi-level analysis of AKC processes. We measured epistemic
and formal quality of arguments. The formal quality of arguments (k=.80, p=000) was measured by the correct
formal structure of the argument (e.g. if justifications were used for every argument), the quality of the
justification and the quality of the reference. The epistemic quality (k=.76, p=000) was measured by the quality
of the used concepts or theories and the relations between them. We evaluated the quality of theories advocated
in the arguments by giving a score of three points for a related theory to the discussed topic, which is the theories
of the week, two for using the theory of the current week, and one for subjective theories that have no scientific
background. A relation drawn between current and other theories was also rated with three and added to the
overall score for epistemic quality.
c) Results
An ANOVA with repeated measures, showed a significant effect for the interaction between time and epistemic
quality, F(6;606)=3.81; p<.001; ηp2=.10, and between time and formal quality, F(6;606)=1.88; p=.015; ηp2=.053.
Descriptive statistics also show that the epistemic quality did not change in the control group throughout the
semester but increased for argumentation script. Formal quality also only increased for argumentation script and
decreased for the control group (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Epistemic and formal quality of argumentation (weekly measurments)
The descriptive statistics show an increase in domain-specific knowledge outcomes from the control group to the
experimental groups (Table 1).
Table 1: Domain-specific knowledge, mean and standard deviation
M (SD)
34.08 (6.53)
39.81 (5.42)
41.34 (4.38)
42.52 (4.33)
t1 t3 t4 t5 t6 t7 t8
Mean (epistemic quality)
t1 t3 t4 t5 t6 t7 t8
Mean (formal quality)
ARG Script
ARG Script
We found significant main effects for both factors in domain-specific knowledge outcome. While the main effect
for argumentation script was large, F(1;98)=23.144; p<.001; ηp2=.19, the effect for GAT proved to be medium,
F(1;98)=11.24; p=.001; ηp2=.10. Besides significant main effects for the two factors, we also found a significant
but small interaction, F(3;102)=4.89; p=.029; ηp2=.05.
d) Discussion
As hypothesized, learners guided by GAT and script gained more domain-specific knowledge in comparison to
the control group and they also showed an increase on the quality of argumentation. The argumentation script
seems to have an advantage over the GAT and the combination of both factors in every case shows the best
results. The effect of GAT and script on the quality of argumentation seems to take place after 4-5 weeks,
indicating that it takes time to develop strategies for building high quality arguments and respective domain-
specific knowledge, which may be very difficult in short-term interventions (Wecker & Fischer, 2014). It has
been argued that learners are overwhelmed in short-term learning environments to consider both, the quality of
arguments and acquire domain-specific knowledge. Long-term interventions, in contrast, can realize AKC that
facilitates both, argumentative and domain knowledge. Consequently, the relation between AKC processes and
outcomes appears to develop over time. This result highlights the interaction of external regulation by a script
versus promoting learners awareness to help them self-regulate their argumentation. Scripts seem to be more
promising regarding formal quality of argumentation, which is not developed by fostering self-regulation in the
group through awareness tools alone.
In contrast to popular views, SNS can serve as a platform for argumentation and learning. The results in
this study reveal that learning to argue may take a social environment, in which groups develop shared
argumentative practices. SNS may offer themselves as such an environment. Two main conclusions may be
made. First, SNS can host long-term studies that can contribute to understanding and facilitating argumentative
learning in online communities. Second, massively used online fora like SNS offer the possibility for
technological interventions such as the ones investigated here. SNS may be leveraged to develop practices of
argumentation on a large scale.
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Greenhow, C., & Robelia, B. (2009). Informal learning and identity formation in online social networks.
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