Improving analytical reasoning and argument understanding: a quasi-experimental field study of argument visualization

Simon Cullen, Judith Fan, Eva van der Brugge, Adam Elga
2018 npj Science of Learning  
The ability to analyze arguments is critical for higher-level reasoning, yet previous research suggests that standard university education provides only modest improvements in students' analytical-reasoning abilities. What pedagogical approaches are most effective for cultivating these skills? We investigated the effectiveness of a 12-week undergraduate seminar in which students practiced a software-based technique for visualizing the logical structures implicit in argumentative texts. Seminar
more » ... tudents met weekly to analyze excerpts from contemporary analytic philosophy papers, completed argument visualization problem sets, and received individualized feedback on a weekly basis. We found that seminar students improved substantially more on LSAT Logical Reasoning test forms than did control students (d = 0.71, 95% CI: [0.37, 1.04], p < 0.001), suggesting that learning how to visualize arguments in the seminar led to large generalized improvements in students' analytical-reasoning skills. Moreover, blind scoring of final essays from seminar students and control students, drawn from a parallel lecture course, revealed large differences in favor of seminar students (d = 0.87, 95% CI: [0.26, 1.48], p = 0.005). Seminar students understood the arguments better, and their essays were more accurate and effectively structured. Taken together, these findings deepen our understanding of how visualizations support logical reasoning and provide a model for improving analytical-reasoning pedagogy.
doi:10.1038/s41539-018-0038-5 pmid:30631482 pmcid:PMC6279835 fatcat:2sm2gtokb5eo5i5w6kiq5wl5ye