The Field Guide Approach to Teaching Argument Analysis

I recently gave a talk for the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) session at the APA Eastern meeting in Philadelphia about a new approach to teaching argument analysis that I've been developing. Here's the abstract of the talk (with a link to the handout below):

Many students take only a single course in philosophy, oftentimes in argument analysis (i.e., 'introductory logic' or 'critical thinking'). I suggest that such a course should aim to make students competent consumers of the full variety of arguments they are likely to encounter across the disciplines and in their daily lives. I argue that an effective way to meet this objective is to model explicitly the process an expert uses to identify and evaluate the structure of an argument, ideally in a context of obvious relevance to the students. I demonstrate how this can be done with a 'field guide' that students use to identify argument types or inference forms as they occur in real-world settings such as position papers, scientific articles, and court decisions.

By a 'field guide', I mean an identification key like those used to identify birds or trees. In this case, a guide consists of a set of descriptions of the basic argument types along with a set of questions that guide the user to a correct identification. In using the questions to make an identification, a student is encouraged to systematically draw the distinctions that separate one argument type (or fallacy) from another (e.g., argument by analogy versus inference to the best explanation). It is widely acknowledged that making the expert process explicit is essential for mastering complex skills [1]. It is also widely acknowledged that for motivating the study and practice of complex skills, problem-based learning (PBL) is an effective tool [2]. Teaching argument analysis with a field guide lends itself naturally to a PBL format.  I share a sample course design, and invite the audience to contribute to the on-line community developing The Argument Guide, a set of open-access, open-source tools for implementing problem-based learning with a field guide.

1. Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. & Norman, M. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. (Jossey-Bass, 2010).
2. McKeachie, W. J. McKeachie’s teaching tips: strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

In case you'd like a copy of the handout I used for my presentation, you can find it here.

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