29 paper

Argumentation and text-based conferencing:
Who is learning and what is being learned?

Caroline Coffin, Ann Hewings, Sarah North
The Centre for Language and Communications
The Open University

This paper focuses on the use of computer mediated communication (cmc), specifically text-based asynchronous conferencing.  It reports on two small scale studies which investigated its use as a medium for developing students’ argumentation skills. The first study focused on a postgraduate distance program in Applied Linguistics whilst the second study focused on an undergraduate distance program in Health and Social Welfare. Both programs were delivered by the Open University, UK and students represented a diverse population with regard to age, ethnicity, educational achievement and geographical location.

The paper discusses the use of a linguistic framework to investigate how teachers and diverse communities of students are using cmc to develop new ways of exchanging views on academic ideas and issues. Argumentation was focused on because a fundamental aim of education is to develop in students a critical attitude towards knowledge, and the ability to engage in reasoned debate (Terenzini, Spinger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1995). Claims have been made that asynchronous conferencing is particularly effective in enabling students to reflect on, elaborate and challenge ideas put forward.  The suggested framework allows researchers to systematically examine such claims and to gain insight into individual and collective processes of argumentation and learning.

Keywords: computer mediated communication, asynchronous text-based conferencing, distance education, linguistic framework, argumentation