Learning to Use Benefit-Cost Arguments: A Microgenetic Study of Argument-Counterargument Integration in an Undergraduate Seminar Course

E. Michael Nussbaum, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
LeAnn G. Putney, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


This microgenetic case study explores how an undergraduate student (Nolan) in a second-year seminar mastered an argument weighing scheme and used it to organize his writing. The students in this seminar completed argumentation vee diagrams (AVDs) prior to discussing controversial issues. Students also completed preessays and postessays on a different topic without using AVDs. Through the AVDs, students were provided with critical, evaluative questions related to designing solutions and weighing arguments against counterarguments. In separate work, we report that the intervention was effective in increasing the number of refutations related to the critical questions (Nussbaum & Dove, 2018). Nolan showed particularly strong growth, and this case study analyzes his discourse to generate qualitative insights and hypotheses into his development. Using the conceptual framework of argument-counterargument integration (Nussbaum, 2008b), we analyzed Nolan’s written artifacts and discussions to better understand how his proficiency with using the argument scheme developed over time. Our results suggest that Nolan initially displayed piecemeal use of the scheme, but over time, Nolan learned to articulate general principles and to integrate these with specific points regarding benefits and costs, as well as with solution-oriented design statements that further reduced disadvantages. Use of the scheme spontaneously transferred to a novel topic. Extensive engagement in ethical discussions, along with studying ethical theory and answering critical questions on AVDs, may have contributed to his development. Theoretical and practical implications related to teaching argumentative writing in conjunction with oral discourse are discussed.