1 Why map other people’s arguments?
This session you are going to explore the use of the FreeMind tool. You will learn how to map an argument that was put forward by someone else. The argument may be in the form of a piece of text, or perhaps as part of an answer to a question in an interview. Before diving into digital argument mapping, it’s important to briefly explore why it is useful at all to learn to map other people’s arguments (in addition to our own).
To appreciate the benefits of mapping other people’s arguments, we will compare your ability to understand stories with your ability to digest an argumentative text.
People learn to understand stories and answer questions about them at an early age. As adults, most people are skilled at reading a story and processing the information in that story. We can answer questions about when things happened according to the story and why. According to Schema theory (e.g. Mandler, 1984), when reading stories, we make sense of the connections between individual events in the story by recognising underlying patterns in the story. These include succession in time (when things happen), cause and effect (why things happen), and so on.
We don’t seem to have the same ability to recognise the underlying patterns in argumentative texts. There is little explicit or implicit training at an early age that helps us to effortlessly see the patterns that are implicit in an argumentative text. However, Harrell (2011) proposes that argument mapping can help us develop this ability.
And it seems to work. There are several studies that report that argument mapping can help students improve their critical thinking skills. Both van Gelder et al. (2004) and Twardy (2004) found that teaching argument mapping can help students do significantly better on standardised tests for critical thinking. Also, a study that compared the traditional teaching of critical thinking with the use of argument mapping found that students who learned argument mapping did significantly better than their counterparts. In particular, they were better at tasks such as spotting the premises and conclusion in an argument and explaining and evaluating the connections between them (Harrell, 2007).