From Online Role-Play to Written Argumentation: Using Blended Learning in Lessons on Social Issues

From Online Role-Play to Written Argumentation: Using Blended Learning in Lessons on Social Issues

Kati Vapalahti (University of Jyväskylä, Finland), Miika Marttunen (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) and Leena Laurinen (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-897-5.ch010
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This chapter reports on a teaching experiment conducted during a blended learning course in social work in a Finnish university of applied sciences (polytechnic). The aim was to investigate how students’ multidimensional understanding of social problems could be fostered. As argumentative methods, the study used writing tasks, online role-play, and drama work. The data consisted of essays written by 65 students (experimental group 29; controls 36) in each of three phases, plus online discussions. The essays were based on 1) the students’ personal experiences, 2) general facts, and 3) a fictional case taken from the online role-play. Varying the focus of the writing task affected students’ standpoints on the effects of adolescents’ intoxicant use on their well-being. Moreover, the use of argumentative methods applied in the blended learning environment both broadened and deepened the students’ argumentation, helping them to understand the diverse nature of an ill-structured problem.
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Argumentation in the Study of Social Issues

Argumentation can be characterized as verbal, social, and rational interaction, aimed at justifying or disproving a given standpoint. When one is studying social issues, argumentation can be seen to have a two-fold character: it is learning to debate, i.e. learning argumentation skills in order to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and also learning from debate, i.e. learning content through an argumentative debate (see Andriessen, Baker, & Suthers, 2003; von Aufschnaiter, Erduran, Osborne, & Simon, 2008). Learning to debate is valuable when, for example, teachers discuss intoxicant issues with young people. On the other hand, learning from debate may help students to achieve a deeper understanding of social problems (see Andriessen, Baker, & Suthers, 2003).

Logical structures are important, since they embody the characteristics of good argumentation, that is, argumentation that includes at least a claim and grounds (see Toulmin, 1958). In informal reasoning, evidence for a claim is generated and evaluated in cases where information is unclear or problems are ill-structured (Means & Voss, 1996). In everyday argumentation, in addition to knowledge, people also utilize values when making decisions (Kolstø, 2006). Professionals working with adolescents often have to deal with ill-structured problems. The solutions to these are frequently unpredictable, and contain many alternatives (Jonassen, 1997). This means that logical models of argumentation alone are not enough; indeed, they may be unsuitable in a good deal of informal everyday reasoning.

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