1st Edition

Argumentation in Higher Education
Improving Practice Through Theory and Research

ISBN 9780415995016
Published September 8, 2009 by Routledge
248 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations

USD $52.95

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Book Description

Argumentation in Higher Education offers professors, lecturers and researchers informative guidance for teaching effective argumentation skills to their undergraduate and graduate students. This professional guide aims to make the complex topic of argumentation open and transparent. Grounded in empirical research and theory, but with student voices heard strongly throughout, this book fills the gap of argumentation instruction for the undergraduate and graduate level.

Written to enlighten even the most experienced professor, this text contributes to a better understanding of the demands of speaking, writing, and visual argumentation in higher education, and will undoubtedly inform and enhance course design. The book argues for a more explicit treatment of argument (the product) and argumentation (the process) in higher education, so that the ground rules of the academic discipline in question are made clear. Each chapter concludes with practical exercises for staff development use.

Topics discussed include:

  • The importance of argument
  • The current state of argumentation in higher education
  • Generic skills in argumentation
  • The balance between generic and discipline specific skills
  • Information communication technologies and visual argumentation

How can we best teach argumentation so that students feel fully empowered in their academic composition? Professors (new and experienced), lecturers, researchers, professional developers and writing coaches worldwide grappling with this question will find this accessible text to be an extremely valuable resource.

Richard Andrews is Professor in English at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Table of Contents

1. Why argument?

It is important to determine, at the outset of the book, why ‘argument’ (the product) and ‘argumentation’ (the process) are significant categories. There are different perspectives that need to be addressed here, some of which suggest that argument is too ‘high’ or abstract a category to be useful to student writers. This chapter argues the case for argument, providing a theoretical basis for the rest of the book based on the work of Bakhtin, Habermas and Vygotsky.

2. The current state of argumentation in higher education

The establishment of a historical and policy-based context for the book. Historically, in traditions that have eschewed rhetoric (like the English higher education tradition), argumentation has been thought to be less worthy of attention that the substance of the discipline. In other traditions – for example, the Scottish/American tradition - rhetoric thrives and thus argumentation is seen to be a skill to be taught. The transferable skills agenda in the UK and elsewhere tends to neglect argument. In the USA, the emphasis has been on generic rhetoric and composition, with many courses (except in the most enlightened of writing centers) divorced from the actual business of writing in the disciplines.

3. Generic skills in argumentation

What are the generic skills in argumentation at higher education level? This chapter looks at a number of models that attempt to map such skills, and discusses how they might be applied in a range of contexts. The advantage of a core set of skills and practices is that they can be used not only to bring unity to studies in argumentation, but also to point out where particular practices diverge from the norm. It also looks at rhetoric and composition courses where such generic skills are assumed to have value.

4. Discipline-specific skills in argumentation

Most studies that have addressed the issue agree that discipline-specific argumentation is more useful and more apposite than generic approaches. Accordingly, this chapter looks at a range of disciplines to determine how argumentation differs, and at what can be done in these particular contexts to help students understand the rules of the game in becoming not only competent, but excellent in their chosen field of study.

5. The balance between generic and discipline-specific skills

A proposal is put forward for a balanced approach to generic and discipline-specific skills development in argumentation at institutional level in higher education. Which elements can be approached generically, and which specifically, is at the heart of this chapter. Guidance on such balance will make for much improved policies and practices with regard to students’ study skills across the sector.

6. Information communication technologies and argument

A number of centres around the world are interested in the potential of ICT to help teach and/or research argumentation. This chapter surveys the field. Using information and communication technologies to undertake argument is not the same as multimodal approaches to argument. Much ICT work in argument is highly textual; but there is the possibility of a more multimodal approach, afforded by the use of images and sound on computer screens. Examples of such work by students will be included.

7. Evidence from research

This chapter will refer to research previously completed by the author as part of a project for the Higher Education Academy (UK), and also with collaborators with whom he has worked. It will refer to a systematic research review, undertaken in 2006, of work in the field; and undertake a new ‘expert review’ of non-intervention, largely qualitative research to complement the systematic review and bring existing knowledge up to date.

8. Students’ views on argumentation

Undergraduate students have their own views on argumentation and its place in their discipline, and in higher education more widely. This chapter reports on an empirical study in which Education Studies undergraduates interviewed other undergraduates in a range of disciplines. There is remarkable commitment to understanding the function of argument, but also a strong sense among students that argument is not addressed by, or made explicit by lecturers. It is a hidden ‘rule of the game’ that students need to know more about. Furthermore, the re-emerging issue of ‘student voice’ in further and higher education is one that needs to be borne in mind in negotiating how, where and why argumentation takes place. This chapter will focus on spoken argumentation.

9. Students’ essays/reports in a range of disciplines

This chapter examines a number of essays (and other forms of assignment) in a range of disciplines, as well as lecturer feedback to student assignments. The author teaches a cross-disciplinary course in Argumentation in Education to undergraduate students. He also looks at the range of topics chosen, from theoretical discussions through standard academic essays on primary, second or tertiary education, to studies of visual argumentation. Furthermore, the chapter looks at student feedback to the course and how it has helped improve the content and delivery over the years. This chapter focuses on written argumentation.

10. Lecturers’ views on argumentation

The views of lecturers are considered, based on interviews. I already have a number of interviews with lecturers in three disciplines. More will be undertaken in a wider range of disciplines for the purposes of this chapter. The principal focus of this chapter is on how professors and lecturers negotiate and establish the parameters of argumentation; how they encourage and ‘police’ these; and how alternative forms of argumentation can be accepted into academic practice. Much of the material is based on feedback to written argumentation.

11. Methodological issues in researching argumentation

Part of the problem in argumentation research is that it is informed by a number of disciplines, including sociology, linguistics, discourse studies, philosophy and literature. Such a range of disciplines means that the underlying ideological assumptions and value systems are not stable or paradigmatic; the field is interdisciplinary. An added difficulty is that the phenomenon of argumentation is only evident in texts, images, codes etc.; determining the nature of argued thought needs a range of approaches. This chapter will draw on cutting-edge thinking on the questions of how to research the field. The author is a contributor to a special issue of the International Journal of Research and Method in Education on this very topic.

12. The way forward in argumentation studies in education

What don’t we yet know about argumentation in higher education, and therefore what needs to be researched? Are there cross-cultural issues that need to be addressed, and if so, how are such studies to be conducted? What are the implications for research, policy and practice – and they way they inter-relate – from the present study?

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Richard Andrews has ten years of experience teaching English, Drama, and English as a Second Language in schools in Yorkshire, London and Hong Kong. Since then, he has worked on initial and continuing teacher education at the universities of Hull, Middlesex (London), York, the Institute of Education (London) and New York University. He is the author and editor of a number of books on argument, including Narrative and Argument (Open University Press, 1989), Teaching and Learning Argument (Cassell, 1995) and, with Sally Mitchell, Essays in Argument (Middlesex University Press, 2000) and an edited collection of academic essays, Learning to Argue in Higher Education (Heinemann/Boynton-Cook, 2001). His research interests are in argumentation (verbal and visual), visual literacy’s and e-learning. He continues to run workshops and courses for teachers and students: most recently ‘Dramatic Activities in the English Classroom’ and ‘Educational Linguistics’ at NYU, and ‘Argumentation and Education’ at The University of York.


"Argumentation is not simply contradiction of other viewpoints (as it plays out in many classrooms); it is, rather, an intricate, intriguing, and structured dance of ideas. This book shows how to nurture productive and civilized argumentation in the broader interests of informed and tolerant discourse." —Teaching Theology and Religion

"A thought-provoking text and a valuable addition to the library of university teachers in any discipline."--London Review of Education