Researching argumentation in educational contexts: New methods, new directions

Coffin, Caroline and O'Halloran, Kieran (2008). Researching argumentation in educational contexts: New methods, new directions. International Journal of Research and Method in Education, 31(3) pp. 219–227.



The ability to engage in reasoned discussion is a skill that is needed in many different workplace and community contexts. The capacity to argue effectively can enhance an individual’s democratic participation in contemporary society through, for example, online communication with political representatives, or participation in the political blogosphere. Yet studies have shown that many citizens’ argumentation skills are ‘only of the most elementary sort’ (Kuhn 1991, 264). This is despite the fact that both the process (argumentation) and the product (argument) of putting forward and negotiating ideas and perspectives is a fundamental aim of education.

Educational argumentation, and the methods and tools of analysis for investigating it, are the focus of this special edition. In combination, the papers present an array of different means by which educational argumentation is currently being researched by key scholars in the field. The methods discussed have been shaped by a number of theoretical orientations and have emerged in a range of disciplinary fields, including linguistics, education, psychology, philosophy and computer science. Many have been influenced by recent developments in technology. Such research necessarily involves judgements concerning the effectiveness and quality of argumentation, as well as ideas on the development of new teaching-learning strategies, processes and resources. In this special edition, however, the focus is on methods for investigating the nature and meaning of argumentation as it occurs in educational contexts and on methods for investigating how it is taught and learned.

In the following sections of this guest editorial, we set the scene for the papers that follow by discussing key trends in contemporary educational argumentation practices, pointing to how such trends are leading to modifications and innovations in research methods. Throughout the sections we also provide critical comment on what we consider to be some of the most significant issues which have emerged as a result of such innovations.

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