Simon Cullen
Carnegie Mellon University
Adam Elga
Princeton University
The ability to analyze arguments is critical for higher-level reasoning, yet previous research suggests that standard university education provides at best modest improvements in students’ analytical reasoning abilities. What techniques are most effective for cultivating these skills? Here we investigate the effectiveness of a 12-week undergraduate seminar in which students practice a software-based technique for visualizing the logical structures implicit in argumen- tative texts. Seminar students 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 Control students (d = .71, p < .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, p = .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.
Keywords Teaching philosophy  Argument mapping  Argumentation  Visualization  Reasoning  Composition
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