Effectiveness of an Instructional Intervention in Developing
Critical Thinking Skills
Role of Argument Mapping in Facilitating Learning of Critical Thinking Skills
Shumaila Mahmood
Southampton Education School, University of Southampton, University Rd, So17 1bj, Southampton, U.K.
Keywords: Critical Thinking Skills, Cognitive Load Theory, Argument Mapping, Instructional Interventions, Cognitive
Tools, Learning and Instruction, Visualization Tools.
Abstract: This paper is focused on how argument mapping (AM) software can be helpful for developing critical
thinking (CT) skills of initial teacher educators. The study discusses the usefulness of argument mapping
software for lessening the cognitive load of students. The main study is conducted to test the effectiveness
of an instructional intervention for the development of critical thinking skills. The effectiveness includes an
assessment of the implementation process as well. The instructional intervention is comprised of computer
supported (audio-video lectures and argument mapping) and non-computer supported (Communities of
Inquiry discussions and concept mapping on paper) learning materials thought to enhance the CT skills of
initial teacher educators in a public teacher education university in Pakistan. The teaching programme based
on seven principles has several elements for teaching critical thinking of which one is computer supported
visual representation (argument mapping). In this paper, the focus is on participants’ accounts of the
usefulness of visual representation (argument mapping) feature for the provision of critical thinking. The
analysis shows the positive influence of computer-supported argument mapping in increasing student
interest in learning CT. However, the belief that argument mapping increases critical thinking could not be
determined in this study for design issues. Students found that AM help them lessening cognitive load while
helping in structuring thoughts. The results from observations and interview responses are discussed for the
implications of argument mapping in mainstream teaching at college/university level with regards to
teaching critical thinking skills. The paper briefly discusses the possibility of placing cognitive load theory
on instructional interventions explains a lot about complex learning environments, element interactivity and
learning. Therefore, if rightly executed, visualization tools as part of teaching strategies for CT may increase
the critical thinking skills.
This study’s intention is to improve the quality of
classroom teaching and learning in postgraduate
teacher education programs in a public teacher
education institution. The objectives of this study are
1) an emphasis on a mixed (explicit and embedded)
intervention (Ennis, 1991; Abrami et al., 2008)
implementation approach such as to investigate the
extent that the intervention is effective or not, 2) to
obtain real classroom data about how critical
thinking skills instructional intervention elements
are implemented meaning what happens in an actual
classroom environment. This paper focuses on the
importance and role of visualization tools as part of
CT instructional interventions. This study focuses on
the role of visualization tools, cognitive load theory
and argument maps in assisting the critical thinking
intervention design primarily related to lessen
extraneous (the way information or tasks are
presented) and germane (the work put into creating a
schema) cognitive load (Paas, Renkl and Sweller,
2003) of the learners.
2.1 Cognitive Load and Learning of
Critical Thinking
Cognitive load is the amount of effort that an
Mahmood, S.
Effectiveness of an Instructional Inter vention in Developing Critical Thinking Skills - Role of Argument Mapping in Facilitating Learning of Critical Thinking Skills.
In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2016) - Volume 1, pages 330-336
ISBN: 978-989-758-179-3
2016 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
activity poses on working memory at a point in time
(Moody, 2004). Cognitive load theory is well known
for explaining cognitive processes and instructional
designs. Its importance is known for improving
speed and accuracy of understanding and deep
understanding of information content (Moody, 2004).
At the same time, it considers the structure of
information and the cognitive architecture that
allows to understand and learning, learner and
instructional designs interactions. This allows for a
unique opportunity to understand complex learning
schemas, the role of working memory, long term
memory and why some materials are difficult to
learn and many more (Paas et al., 2003; Cooper,
1998). There an extensive amount of work available
from Sweller, 1988; 1994; 1999, Paas et al., 2004,
Paas and Ayres, 2014 Nonetheless, cognitive load
theory is not void of flaws and counter arguments
about its usability and correctness for example see
Moreno (2010) and De Jong (2010).
2.2 Cognitive Modelling Tools
Cognitive tools by definition are tools, means or
instruments that are used to improve the cognitive
powers of learners during their thinking, problem-
solving and learning (Jonassen et al., 1997; Pea,
1985; Salomon, Perkins and Globerson, 1991).
According to Derry and Lajoie (1993, p. 5) “the
appropriate role for a computer system is not that of
a teacher/expert, but rather, that of a mind-extension
cognitive tool” or what Jonassen (1994;1995) calls
mind tools. Cognitive tools, according to Derry and
Lajoie (1993) are unintelligent tools, relying on the
learner to provide the intelligence. To lever this need
of visualising complex thought processes,
technology proves handy to support human
cognition with a range of interfaces available (Lajoie
and Derry, 2013). Cognitive tools are categorised
into two main sections cognitive teaching strategies
(non-computer based) and cognitive modelling tools
(computer based). This section discusses methods of
reasoning, judgement, problem solving, procedures
and processes of cognitive activity that help in
learning high order thinking skills.
2.2.1 Concept Mapping
Concept mapping is a visual technique to organize
information. It is presented in the form of nodes that
are connected to circles or boxes; the relationship
among concepts is usually depicted with a
connecting line (Novak 2004; Novak and Cañas,
2006). Kim and Olaciregui (2008) used concept
maps in learning activity that employed reviewing
and increasing concept map based information. Liu,
Chen and Chang (2010) investigated effectiveness of
concept maps as an aid in improving English reading
comprehension. More recently Adesope and Nesbit
(2013) used concept mapping for improving
narrative reading. Studies have also shown concept
maps helpful in increasing student achievement
(Chiou, 2008). Lim, Lee and Grabowski (2009)
established concept maps as effective instructional
tools. They found students with high self-regulated
skills gained more than those of with low self-
regulated skills.
In another study by Cheema & Mirza (2013) the
effects of concept mapping on academic
achievement has been studied. These tools are seen
to be effective in improving students’ performance
in general science. The study also observed that the
effects of concept mapping are positively related
with academic achievement. Tan (2012) focuses on
using Intel thinking Tools for the development of
critical thinking skills of twenty teacher trainees.
The results reveal an increase in the trainees’ critical
thinking abilities in completing their assignments..
This implies that concept maps may work better
with adult students to promote meaningful learning
(Horton et. al., 1993) who will learn to use the
software and meaning and use of boxes, symbols
faster than young children. Buehl and Fives (2011)
also shows effectiveness of concept maps in the
discipline of Educational Psychology as instructional
assessment tool.
2.2.2 Argument Mapping
According to van Gelder (2013), argument mapping
(AM) has been prepared with the explicit intention
of decreasing the mental load and to facilitate
learning and development of critical thinking skills.
Harrell (2008; 2011) researched over the
effectiveness of visual representation for the
development of critical thinking skills. The
researcher used argument mapping within the
context of an introductory philosophy course. The
results of the study showed improvements in the
critical thinking skills of students. In order to make
argument mapping successful, students must be
taught how to construct argument diagrams to aid in
the understanding and evaluation of the arguments.
The writer considers diagram mapping useful for
developing general CT skills and discipline specific
analytic abilities both. Dwyer, Hogan, and Stewart
(2010; 2012; 2013) examined the effects of critical
thinking in an e-learning course. The course was
Effectiveness of an Instructional Intervention in Developing Critical Thinking Skills - Role of Argument Mapping in Facilitating Learning of
Critical Thinking Skills
taught through argument mapping in the discipline
of psychology. The study follows a quantitative
approach using quasi-experimental methods.
3.1 Research Study Design
A sequential mixed method design is implied
because the first, purpose is to see if a critical
thinking skills intervention can facilitate increase in
students CT skills. The second purpose, based on
outcomes of the intervention effect, is a follow up
qualitative study to validate how the implied method
(i.e. intervention) have helped or failed to help in
improving students’ critical thinking skills.
Moreover, what other factors played a role in
affecting the CT intervention implementation. This
study uses a quan-qual mixed method research
design (Creswell, 2008; 2009).
Figure 3.1a: Mixed method research design.
Figure 3.1b: Sequential explanatory design.
Figure 3.1a and 3.1b is the representation of the
methodology employed. The image is from Creswell
(2009) and explains the extent of using mixed
methods research design where main path of inquiry
remains quantitative therefore, bold and bigger,
followed by a qualitative methods approach.
Moreover, the data is collected in stages and
quantitative and qualitative data is collected in
sequence and exploratory manner, figure 3.1b shows
the sequential explanatory design
(Creswell, 2008).
The first QUAN (main quantitative) phase of the
research study follows a quasi-experimental two
group pre-test post-test design to look at the
effectiveness of an instructional intervention on
students of an initial teacher education program. The
second qualitative phase follows qualitative
classroom observations, journal notes and interviews
to explain the outcomes.
3.1.1 Argument Mapping Software
Freely available open source software
‘Argumentative’ is used for this study. The
researcher acknowledges sourceforge.net for
providing with free download. Figure 3.1.1 shows
screen view of the mapping software.
Figure 3.1.1: Argumentative software interface.
The figure 3.1.1 shows the interface that student
used to practice CT directed argument mapping.
3.2 Critical Thinking Skills
A mixed approach (Ennis, 1998) is used to teach
critical thinking. The mixed approach CT “is taught
as an independent track within specific subject
matter” (Ennis, 1991; Abrami et al., 2008).
Independent track is ‘explicit’ where learners are
made aware that they are being taught CT elements
and how to think. Learning materials and teaching
strategies are used to categorically unravel elements
of CT. On the other hand, ‘embedded’ means when
it is engrained in existing curriculum and subject
specific topics are modified for deep learning while
applying the rules and elements of thought learned
via explicit approach. Together, these are known as
mixed approach to teach CT, for detail see Ennis
(1991) and Abrami et al. (2008). The first two weeks
comprises of explicit teaching of CT as an
independent thread and the last two weeks included
embedded teaching of CT within the Educational
Psychology subject matter. This was supported
practising the argumentation skills by argument
mapping software. As per mixed approach, the
second half of instructional intervention is related to
deep subject matter related practice into thinking
critically. This thread of the lesson plans is longer
than explicit CT teaching lesson (videos and
collaborative tasks of paper pencil concept mapping)
CSEDU 2016 - 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
and utilizes the visual representation tool (argument
mapping software) to help students’ lessen cognitive
The findings for effectiveness of visualization tools
(concept maps and argument maps) will be drawn on
standard classroom observations, research journal
notes (taken during the intervention implementation)
and seven semi-structured interviews of the
participants at the end of the intervention. During the
intervention it was observed that student worked
more attentively and with increased interest on class
tasks that’s involved preparing concept maps on
curriculum or general topics. They worked in small
groups (two to four) groups to brainstorm ideas on
topics and prepare simple concept maps.
For argument mapping we asked the participants
“What design features of instruction e.g. discussion
in community of inquiry, audio-video lectures on
critical thinking, learning with argument mapping
software, discussions in broader and deeper meaning
of curricular topics did you find most useful?”
following are the excerpts from qualitative data. The
data were analysed using critical analysis of the text
using thematic analysis approach.
Argument mapping plays a role in enhancing
students interest in learning and facilitating in
lessening the cognitive load those students felt while
learning CT. A student expressed learning with
[technology] argument mapping as an interesting
and different experience. To this student argument
mapping was helpful to structure the line of
argument, claims or evidence, how this can be
applied to other subjects as well [transferability of
CT skills]. Argument mapping also helped to
improve the writing of this student.
“Learning with argument mapping (Promptly), it
was different and interesting meaning we never
thought of information that it is relevant or
credible, no we don't. It improved my writing
and it motivated me for learning”.
Another student expressed that working with
argument mapping helped to develop a critical
aspect in thinking. The student felt motivated
through argument mapping [use of technology] even
when they were not interested in learning, computer
enhanced argument maps helped to see the structure
of thought and kept students interest. Learning in
technology enhanced environment was also liked
because teacher was there to guide, there was proper
planning and materials were readily available.
“I can criticize and handle a topic, situation.
Motivated through computer lab work, that
experience it was motivational as well because
we could see the structure of thought, and we
also saw teacher as a guide and instructor. There
was proper planning, software was available and
we were given all the materials, that phase was
Learning in groups was liked by this student as
this student thinks we learn socially with other
fellows. Learning argument mapping was easy due
to it being hands on and activity based. The reading
exercise was not liked by this student because she
does not like to read however discussion were of
interest and the student thinks we [she/he] learn a lot
from discussions.
“We learned to think critically in groups. With
my fellows, I could not make it with our friends
because it was tough. I found learning argument
mapping was easy because we did it practically,
by our hands in front of us and by our mind”.
The class teacher found the design of the
instruction very useful however there were some
problems. The students in teacher’s opinion are
unable to take the responsibility of learning for
themselves, they are not used to it although on the
contrary the teaching is going to change in Pakistan
but it will take time. These kinds of learning
experiences are not common yet students worked
eagerly. They will need more practice and drill on it,
with practice students will perform better on
argument mapping. The teacher stresses the
importance of methodology [instructional plan] and
design features especially communities of Inquiry,
collaboration and argumentative software and
expresses his interest in future use of this method
[CT embedded instruction].
“I found this design of instruction very useful
and very fine. This was totally new thing for
students, they worked on it eagerly but they
would need more practice and drills on this work.
So, I think with more practice they can perform
well on this argumentative software.
It’s really useful and workable strategy to enable
the students work in COI, collaboration, to work
on argumentative software”.
Effectiveness of an Instructional Intervention in Developing Critical Thinking Skills - Role of Argument Mapping in Facilitating Learning of
Critical Thinking Skills
The results and discussion of this paper is limited to
the qualitative data only. Argument mapping is a
part of teaching strategies of an instructional
intervention. The effectiveness of each teaching
strategy is not separately measured due to the design
limitation. The feedback on instructional design is
gathered at the end through interviews asking direct
question about design features of instruction. The
findings from participants’ accounts suggest that
argument mapping does facilitate in visualising
thinking, increasing interest, building opportunities
for collaboration and group work and learning to
build ‘valid, credible’ arguments. The students
found this approach useful because it help them to
think independently as well as thinking with their
fellows. This is in agreement with Brown and
Freeman (2000) and Kim and Reeves (2007) that
such teaching strategies can have direct or indirect
on development of CT skills.
One main expression that almost all participants
conveyed that it was hard to teach and be taught this
way and that learning critical thinking is tough
(Willingham, 2008, van Gelder et al., 2004). This is
not a surprise to us due the novelty of the structured
teaching programme in this context. Additionally,
research literature has many examples of evidence
that high order learning skills pose challenge to its
leaner and argument mapping helps avoiding
cognitive load (van Gelder, Bissett, and Cumming,
However, this study finds the usefulness of
argument mapping among participants to look at
information in a different way and learning with AM
easy due to its hands on practice feature and leaving
the learner do the thinking while only facilitating in
visualizing the structure of thought. This extends
Jonassen (1995) and Derry and Lajoi (1993) thesis
that the role of computer tools is that of a mind
extension and not that of teacher/expert.
It seems argument mapping work as a mind
extension tool for these students but needs more
practice. This is consistent with van Gelder, Bissett,
and Cumming, (2004) Davies (2011; 2012). The
students and class teacher also showed interest in
use of more such technologies in mainstream
The learners may need to attend to each of the
elements and interactions between the elements
individually (e.g., audio-video lesson, class activities,
discussion on curriculum embedded topics and
preparing argument maps). Kalyuga et al., (2003)
and Sweller, Ayres, and Kalyuga, (2011a; 2011b)
have researched on reversal effects and the
interactions between levels of expertise and the
isolated or interaction elements effect in their work.
If implemented effectively, AM can be utilized
to gain increased effect sizes in critical thinking
skills interventions and improving the results of
instructional interventions. Interventions that have
complex materials and put high cognitive load on
learner’s minds may not bring significant results
over a short time as the learners will need to go
through exploratory phase, and then they will reach
The following conclusions can be drawn from the
data in terms of role of argument mapping software
for facilitating learning of critical thinking.
a) Technology can be a positive adds on while
teaching complex constructs like CT however
the users’ familiarity, likeness and expertise
of handling technology may have a negative
effect rather than positive. One needs to be
careful or give training in advance before
introducing technology supported teaching –
learning techniques.
b) Argument mapping help in increasing
students’ interest and motivation. It facilitates
the cognitive processing of thinking among
c) The quality of delivery of the intervention
components may be a major factor for the
failure of critical thinking skills interventions.
Interaction effect of complex elements can be
another reason for low effect sizes in critical
thinking research.
Argument maps are used as part of a multiple
components consisting teaching programme. The
study did not measure the effectiveness of AM and
cognitive load separately. The findings of this
research are based on qualitative data and a small
sample therefore, generalisations cannot be made.
However, one can conclude for this sample and
context on a n exploratory level argument maps
facilitate learning and construction of arguments by
providing the user the flexibility and structure to
thought that may lessen cognitive load. For teacher
educators, curriculum and courses should be
prepared with an explicit interest and emphasis on
critical thinking skills and argument mapping tools.
More practice and learning opportunities with
CSEDU 2016 - 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
computer supported argument mapping should be
part of critical thinking skills related instructional
Future work may explore and measure the effect
of argument mapping in developing CT as part of
instructional intervention. Moreover, the relationship
between learning of critical thinking, cognitive load
the role of argument mapping in facilitating to lessen
the load and improving CT needs to be explored.
Overall the data from classroom observations,
research journal and participants’ interview
demonstrated the usefulness of argument mapping in
facilitating learning as instructional technology tools.
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