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Gyenes, T 2017, 'Arguing with technology: Teaching and learning argumentative writing in the digital age English classroom', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright T Gyenes 2017


Argumentation is an under-developed practice in secondary English classrooms where the focus of essay-writing instruction has become the testing of content and the practising of text and paragraph templates. Under these constraints students are failing to see the process or product of writing as authentic or meaningful. In one response, educational technology promises much, with its multimodal hook, the lure of real-world communication and the proposed independence of its users. To date, however, the potential of educational technology to promote critical thinking that can be transferred to critical writing is under-explored. An opportunity exists to evaluate how argumentation can provide a communicative impetus in a digital learning environment focused on dialogue and collaboration. Theory and practice – based on student voices – can be foregrounded to evaluate the use of scaffolding-type programs, such as digital argument mapping, in the writing classroom.

Adopting a design-based research methodological approach, data collected from treatment and control groups of Year 9 and 10 students (aged 14-16 years) explored argumentation and digital argument mapping skills and interactions as part of a normal term’s unit of work in two school settings. This research aimed to discover the nature of student disengagement with contemporary practices for the writing of opinion, then explore the results and interpretations of working in an alternative approach. Digital argument mapping was trialled in order to evaluate both its impact on the effectiveness of student writing, and its impact on student engagement with practices dependent on dialogue and collaboration during the writing process.

Skills in argumentation improved from pre- to post-test writing and both students and teachers reported the usefulness and energy of an approach that focused on the purpose of writing. Most significantly, the use of a digital scaffolding type program challenges several contemporary assumptions about the effectiveness of educational technology in the writing classroom, and for learning more generally. In particular, the creation of a dialogic learning environment around intervention technology used to supplement, not replace, the teacher, was found to lead to more engagement in the writing process and more effective writing. Research findings suggest that a carefully structured teaching program centred on argument can reinvigorate writing by focusing on dialogue and collaboration as part of the planning stage of writing.