Argumentative Technology

One of the essential features of learning is argument. There are many ways to unpack this rather bald statement but two takes on “argument” are particularly appealing to me and have a natural expression in educational technologies without being at all futuristic to implement.

Firstly, I want to consider the kind of rigorous exploration of ideas through argument that Socrates was so well known for. The Socratic method may be an over-grand term to use but I think it is possible to use educational technology in some simple ways that engage the learner in the kind of reflective thinking that Socrates forced his subjects into. I particularly like a style of dialogue where the Socrates-character leads their subject into an exploration of the logical consequences of a misconception. Clearly to attempt to programme a computer to be Socrates is a bit far fetched but I wonder how much effort it would take for someone who knew their students to use something like Quandry to take a prepared decision-tree for such a dialogue and create something that would require learners to engage with the ideas. I gather something like this could even be expressed using IMS QTI.

I talked about doing this kind of thing with Andrew Ravenscroft at a conference some years ago and he introduced me to some software hehad been designing for computer aided argumentation, which illustrates my second “take” on argument in this post. I recently stumbled across some work by Andrew and colleagues in a JISC case study to illustrate innovative e-learning practice using what they have called AcademicTalk. AcademicTalk is not at all like Quandry … read the case study to find out more.

There is, maybe, an interesting Russian Doll of argument within argument. What would it be like to place something like AcademicTalk, with synchronous and asynchronous discussion, within the maze-room-like decision points in a Quandry-style “canned” Socratic dialogue? Record the discussions and the creator of the maze has a natural feed of new misconceptions to challenge.

This is all soundling like a multi-user dungeon.

Blogging and Inclusion

I am not a born blogger; as a young person I would never have advertised myself like this. Indeed I am not a natural blogger; this is the first public post I have ever written and, had I not recently started work at CETIS, the first would still be in the future. Blogging is part of my job now. CETIS is walking-the-walk and, in spite of my mixed feelings about blogging, this is a good thing. How else could we possibly engage with our community on questions such as the role of blogs in teaching and learning? Mixed feelings have feelings too.

So, what kind of mixed feelings:

I worry that, while “The Web” offers the potential for broadening inclusion in some respects, some of its aspects may exclude or alientate different groups;
There is far too much noise with an overflowing of superficial trivia;
I react against post-modernism;

I don’t wish to promote exclusion, contribute to the drivel or encourage the post-modernists. I will come to the other mixed feelings another time and for now just reflect a little on inclusion.

(a short pause while I agonise over the use of the first person vs third person)

As I speculated on stereotypes of the blog-alientated, the private people, the dyslexic, the un-cool … my fingers reached for Google and I quickly stumbed into David Wilcox’s Designing for Civil Society blog and a post on the digital divide in the era of social software. The blog is mostly about democracy, government and participation bu t David’s analysis really fits with where we are in teaching and learning and the above post offers a number of assertions that could be usefully debated in and around the CETIS community.

Yet still I wonder whether you need to be sociable to be included.