Computer-supported argumentation

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Computer-supported argumentation

  • Argumentation is not only discourse for persuasion, logical proof, and evidence-based belief, but more generally, discussion in which disagreements and reasoning are presented. (Kischner, preface) [1]
  • Computer-supported argumentation systems can be used in various areas such as decision support or education, i.e. they can be classified either as CSCW or CSCL tools.

See also the writing-to-learn and writing tool topics.


  • Computer-supported collaborative argumention
  • Computer-supported argumentation visualization
  • Argument writing tools


“The age of mind refers to the shift in focus from the production and availability of information and its associated technology, to concerns about how people utilize that information, the barriers and challenges they face in accessing and interacting with information, what they do with information, and how it enables them to get on with their lives.” (Kischner, preface)

In developing and testing cognitive tools it appears argumentation is almost unilaterally chosen as the genre framework to work with, as it allows for “activit(ies) that involve confronting cognitions and their foundations” (Andriessen, Baker & Suthers, 2003).

Writing an argumentative text is a difficult task. Previous studies which investigated the argumentative skills of secondary schools students ascribe the difficulties to lack of specific education, which would help students to disentangle the complexity of argumentation.

Because of the varying demands and benefits believed to be inherent in the genre, it remains one of the most venerated genres in writing-to-learn. It is thought to require students to process information deeply and to construct relationships among ideas, thereby attaining increased understanding and recall of curriculum material (Klein, 1999, p. 230).

Andriessen, Baker, and Suthers (2003) distinguish between the types of learning that argumentation can engender in a collaborative learning environment. This is similar to the internal dialectic in which a writer engages during the writing of an argumentative text (Benetos, 2006, p. 10).

  • learning from debate (topic specific),
  • learning about debate (expanding perspectives on a topic),
  • learning to debate (learning the structures and language of argumentation).

The product-related activities involved in argumentative writing are:

  • the production of counter-arguments (expanding perspectives and knowledge on the topic),
  • the addition or removal of claims (reflecting change in one’s representation of a topic),
  • new knowledge construction (from interaction of opposing views).

(Andriessen et al., 2003, p. 9-10)

As a result argumentative writing appears to be one of the most difficult writing genres for novice writers. Due to a limited capacity for reasoning and a difficulty in recognizing causal relationships between events and ideas, writers before 11 or 12 years of age have great difficulty recognizing the bias of a statement in an argumentative text (Brassart, 1996). They can, however, discern bias as early as 8 years old if the classification is simple (e.g.: good or bad) (Roussey & Gombert, 1996).

Young writers also have difficulty generating arguments that are varied, valid and developed. Children under 10 have difficulty conceiving and considering an opposing point of view (Golder & Coirier, 1996, Brassart, 1996), as they are not likely to have reached the level of development that allows for “psychosocial decentering” that increases with age and maturity (Golder & Coirier, 1996, p. 279). The cognitive load involved in keeping in mind diverging points of view and a rhetorical goal during the composition of a text is overwhelming (Roussey & Gombert, 1996). Their underdeveloped linguistic capacities in the use of necessary connectives (thus, but, therefore, etc.) to link and structure ideas add to their difficulty in constructing cohesive arguments (Akiguet & Piolat, 1996).

Uses in education

  • A semantic markup language conducive to a process model of writing and representative of a framework for argumentation has been used as a pedagogical tool in teaching argumentative writing to students at the Universitiy of Georgia using the Electronic Markup and Management Application. Students analyse texts by using XML tags to identify and label different parts of their texts which can then be shared and opened to peer review.
  • Computer-supported tools have been used to help in the construction of sound arguments (formulation of hypotheses, logical reasoning) through visualizations of individual and collaborative working processes.

Activities supported by computer-supported argumentation

Research on how best to scaffold argumentative writing focuses on 3 general aspects: idea-generation, structural help (planning and linearization) and linguistic help. While significantly helping with the first two aspects, CSCL tools have been largely concerned with providing a medium that fosters generation of ideas, debate, evaluation and collaboration and offer little or no help with the linearization process and linguistic aspects that are partly at the root of writers’ difficulty in incorporating ideas into the structure demanded and defined rhetorical goal (Brassart, 1996, Akiguet & Piolat, 1996).kalli 13:24, 19 January 2007 (MET)

Current computer-supported argumentative tools tend to fall under the categories of debate expansion and elaboration tools , text structuring and linearization tools , and metacognitive tools.

  debate expansion and elaboration text structuring and linearization metacognitive tool
CSCL (debate, CSCW) x   x
idea-generation x    
diagraming of arguments (e.g.concept maps) x x x
visualization x x x
linguistic help
organization of arguments   x  
linearization of global text   x  
explicit scaffolding x x x
self-evaluation     x
self-regulation     x


Argumentation specific tools

A few tools developed specifically to support argumentation and argumentative writing (with quotes from their homepages):

  • DREW - "DREW aims to support collaborative reflection and debate between students across the Internet. Available in six languages: English, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Finnish, Hungarian."
  • Araucaria - "Araucaria is a software tool for analysing arguments. It aids a user in reconstructing and diagramming an argument using a simple point-and-click interface. The software also supports argumentation schemes, and provides a user-customisable set of schemes with which to analyse arguments."
  • Belvedere - "designed to help support problem-based collaborative learning scenarios with concept and evidence models, and provides multiple representational views (tables and graphs) on those models. Belvedere was originally intended to help secondary school students learn critical inquiry skills that they can apply in everyday life as well as in science, but can be adopted to other applications as well."
  • C-SAW - "an online authoring tool with built-in scaffolding and self-regulation to help novices of argumentative writing"
  • Explore Ideas - "Dynamically develop thoughts with ideas and arguments that you find relevant. ... You can also: link any two ideas, make loops in reasoning (A -> B, B -> C, C -> A), bridge artificial categorization of ideas by combining relevant ideas from different topics. "

Related topics: ArgEssML, CSCL, writing tool, cognitive tool

Other tools

Other writing tools that can be used in computer-supported argumentation:


  • Andriessen, J., Baker, M., and Suthers, D. (2003) Argumentation, Computer Support, and the Educational Context of Confronting Cognitions, Arguing to Learn: Confronting Cognitions in Computer-supported Collaborative Learning Environments. Vol.1. Andriessen, J., Baker, M., and Suthers, D. (Eds.) Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 1-26.
  • Benetos, K. (2006), 'Computer-Supported Argumentative Writer: An authoring tool with built-in scaffolding and self-regulation for novice writers of argumentative texts', Master thesis, TECFA, University of Geneva. PDF
  • Brassart D. G. (1996) Didactique de l’argumentation écrite: Approches psycho-cognitives, Argumentation, Volume 10, No. 1, Kluwer Academic Publishers
  • Desmet C., Department of English, University of Georgia, Bringing Up EMMA: Developing Writing Software with XML at The University of Georgia, Accessed June 20, 2005. [2]
  • Golder C., Coirier P. (1996) The Production and Recognition of Typological Argumentative Test Markers, Argumentation, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 271-282. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  • Klein, P.D. (1999) Reopening Inquiry into Cognitive Processes in Writing-To-Learn. Educational Psychology Review, Vol.11, No. 3. pp. 203-270.
  • Paul A. Kirschner, Simon J. Buckingham Shum and Chad S. Carr (Eds.). (2003). Visualizing Argumentation: Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making, Springer-Verlag: London, ISBN 1-85233-6641-1. Information web stite (HTML)
  • Yang, J. T. D. (2003). Book review: Visualizing Argumentation - Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making (Editors: P. Kirschner, S. Buckingham-Shum, and C. Carr). Educational Technology & Society , 6(3), 86-88, Available at HTML
  • Karacapilidis, N. & Papadias, D. Computer Supported Argumentation And Collaborative Decision Making: The Hermes System PDF. This free paper is also useful for a literature review.
  • Chryssafidou, E. DIALECTIC: Enhancing essay writing skills with computersupported formulation of argumentation. PDF
  • Weinberger, A., & Fischer, F. (2006). A framework to analyze argumentative knowledge construction in computer-supported collaborative learning. Computers & Education, 46 (1), 71-95--------

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