Characterizing argumentation structure within the asynchronous, online communication of novice engineering design students
Practicing argumentation in secondary school classrooms benefits students both in terms of learning how to argue and learning the course material at hand. Amidst the onset and growth of engineering design courses in secondary schools, this dissertation is an exploratory case study to characterize the use of argumentation among novice student engineering designers. The setting is a high school robotics class. Specifically, a group of students from one class section teamed up with a group of students from a separate class section to design and build a single robot. The team members communicated online via a shared, editable document. That text is the primary data set for my analysis. I looked for indications of argumentation structure that emerged from the online discussion, given that, to my knowledge, the students had not been taught argumentation strategies, per se. Engineering design is relatively new to secondary school, so I thought it appropriate to develop a baseline—a case study that reveals how students communicate about their designs when left largely to their own devices. This study may inform the development argumentation scaffolds that support the students’ existing strengths while ameliorating their weaknesses. My analytical supposition was that argumentation in design will take the form of resolving differences of opinion toward the creation of a single design. Hence, I used Pragma-dialectic theory as my analytical framework. It is a broad theory, based upon resolving differences of opinion in everyday conversation. As such, Pragma-dialectic theory may also be able to encompass the idiosyncrasies of team design, such as reliance on intuition and experience, as well as the important roles that designed objects play throughout the process. Taken together, the importance of intuition, experience, and objects suggests multiple modes of communication that ought to be considered arguments within design deliberations. Results suggest that the students worked to resolve differences of design opinions. In doing so, the students relied heavily on their designed objects to make their arguments meaningful. I classified five object-based claims which emerged from the students’ discussions: keystone, tinkering, visual, tactile, and counterfactual. These form the beginnings of a theory of object-based argumentation.