Yang, J. T. D. (2003). Book review: Visualizing Argumentation –Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making (Editors: P. Kirschner, S. Buckingham-Shum, and C. Carr). Educational Technology & Society, 6(3), 86-88 (ISSN 1436-4522)

Visualizing Argumentation –Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making

(Book review)

Reviewer: Jin Tan David Yang
Associate Professor
Department of General Literacy
National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan, ROC

Book details:
Visualizing Argumentation –Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making
Editers: Paul Kirschner, Simon Buckingham-Shum, Chad Carr
Springer, London, http://www.VisualizingArgumentation.info
242 pages softcover
2003, ISBN: 1-85233-6641-1



Our world is a combination of chaos and order. In the orderly world, we can handle it easily by computer software algorithms.  Conversely, in the chaos world such as teaching/learning in a classroom, discussing a paper in a research group, and so on, we cannot specify all the whole processes before we do it because those cases are “wicked” instead of well-defined problems in terms of organizational landscapes. To resolve wicked problems in an organization, collaborative problem solving, conversations, and teamwork are designed for generating new knowledge or getting a consensus. In other words, how to get those participants get consensus through interactions or argumentations on the locality or on the web, we need visually technology tools to connect all stakeholders together in the cyber space for making sense discussions.

It is not a sudden issue, but a long argument history on visualization in collaborative work. Recently, the nature of visualization in collaborative on the web is a kind of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) to deal with those wicked problems ahead of our society. The CSCW emphasizing on augmenting social activity is similar with the central problems for HCI that dealing with users to face the social-technical gap.  It is generally accepted that CSCW stakeholders appear to be an effective way for organizations to handle wicked problems and to share knowledge outside of the traditional structural boundaries. This book presents the existing CSCW case studies and argues that the challenge of the social-technical gap creates an opportunity to refocus CSCW as a new research orientation.

Reviewing the past literature, four stages is worthwhile to be categorized as follows:

  1. Concept map: Novak (1972) has pursued a program of work on concept mapping as a tool for high school and university students to construct, reflect on and discuss their conceptions of a domain with peers and tutors. After 30 years, there are many positive empirical studies to verify how the concept map makes the structure of arguments explicit to facilitate consensus by reducing the differences between an expert and novices like students.  In constructing the Object-Oriented program, the Unified Modeling Language (UML) has been used as visualized software tools that describe a set of workflow for many years.  Workflows are such things as requirements gathering, use case modeling, analysis, design, implementation, testing, and deployment in the software construction. Each workflow typically requires several workers to complete.
  2. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Through the CMC that focused on asynchronous textual interactions (rather than visualizations), the pleasures of physical space are hard to be preserved, but the efficiencies of reaching across distances with telecommunications can be reached in a collaborative group. To some extent, the CMC tools with whiteboard also offer visualization for group collaborative work.
  3. Computer Supported Argument Visualization (CSAV) as tools for facilitating argumentation: many tools have been designed for resolving wicked problems provided by gIBIS (graphical Issue Based Information System). These tools can enable people to augment their intellectual capacities by manipulating externalized “concept structure”. Toulmin’s graphical argument structure has been most cited in CSAV. In science education, many options might be proposed by different schools once science phenomena are identified. Then gIBIS can be used as visual tool among all participants.
  4. In the CSCW application on the web today, the MSN Messager is a well-suited platform for carrying out a variety of multimodal HCI experiments. In the near future, hand gesture recognition, speaker detection and tracking, and non-verbal discourse cue recognition components will be added for a more natural HCI environment. With more sophisticated computer vision algorithms and HCI tools, the CSCW tools like the MSN Messager will become an indispensable application of ubiquitous computing.

Clearly written and well organized in this edited book, the purpose of Argument Visualization is to enlighten human intellect by creating collective intellect through dialogues as well as by fostering sense-making learning among participants. In this book, readers can find two features special:

  1. Most technological support concerns building collection environment rather than enhancing ways to use them. This book provides many cases to show how a CSCW tool should be used and how particular implementations such as legal issues.
  2. While CMC systems are just to allow people enough communicative suppleness; but lack much support for sharing information, roles, and other social policies.  The CSCW technical mechanisms (e.g., floor or session control) should offer the flexibility required by social life. To date, the social-technical gap still exists and is wide. This book is to explore, understand, and hopefully ameliorate this social-technical gap.


Book Content

The remaining parts of this book review, I would like to summarize the theme of content of visualization chapter by chapter. There are two parts in the book. Part I gives the foundations. The theme of the foundation comes from visualization as human intellectual augment. In contrast, Part II focuses on application in a variety of real fields.

In chapter 1, two articles are mentioned by two scientists- Vancouver Bush (1945) and Douglas Engelbart (1962). Bush envisioned a near future system based on his historical literature review on science development and laid out the framework for enabling people to augment their intellectual faculties by manipulating externalized “concept structures”. Then the ”wicked problems” have been fully discussed. Those problems motivated the development of gIBIS as a medium to encourage the open deliberation of issues since gIBIS allows the explicit representation of the underlying assumptions and argument structures.

In chapter 2, why do people think differently about an object? It is very hard to get consistent agreement in a social group since there are many misconceptions in people’s minds. One might view an object from content, format of content, or operator of content. They use their existing concepts to interpret what they sense in their world.  Therefore, to resolve those coordination problems needs multiple agents in terms of cognitive and communicative demands. In this chapter, Computer-Supported Argumentation Visualization (CSAV) environment is firstly explored.

In chapter 3, two CSCW net-meeting systems have been introduced. They are Belvedere and Allaire forum. The former provides synchronous form of argumentation. Conversely, the latter offers asynchronous or indirect form. Additionally, the TC3 (Text Composer, Computer Supported & Collaborative) environment is conducted as experimentation design. Four independent variables are Control, Diagram, Outline, and Advisor. The research results show that the experimental groups that supported by Diagram, Advisor, and Outline (DAO) are more structured in their direct communication than that of the control group. It means that the planning tools by DAO stimulate a more structured dialogue.

In Chapter 4, the real application has been extended to legal argumentation rather than scientific proofs. A study by Moshman and Geil (1988) provides clear evidence for cognitive value of collaborative learning. The research gives the reason why people need to work collaboratively. Also, CSAV supports the organization and representation of reasoning skill, enabling students to organize their oral and written argumentation process by re-use legal knowledge.

In Chapter 5, it focuses on enhancing deliberation through CSAV. Three key concepts are introduced sequentially. Firstly, the definition of deliberation is a form of thinking in which we decide where we stand on some claim in light of the relevant arguments. Secondly, CSAV can enhance the critical thinking in terms of deliberation processes. Finally, group deliberation via argument visualization contributes substantially to the quality of group decision support system (GDSS).

In Chapter 6, original IBIS was developed in the early 1970s as a tool to support planning and policy design process. The case study reports on 10 years of continuous usage of Dialog Mapping by a group of approximately 50 users in the environment Affairs division of Southern California Edison (SCE). Also, some principles for introducing dialog mapping into a new organization are summarized. Actually, you can download the QuestMap, providing some hypertext and groupware features, with free charge from website http://www.compendiuminstitute.org/tools/questmap.htm to resolve a complex task by group dialogs or collective intelligence.

In Chapter 7, two key ideas in this chapter are (a). Linking visual sense-making and dialogue for fostering collective intelligence is a shared activity or a process of collaborative inquiry; (b). How to be a successful facilitator to foster collective intelligence is summarized. Also, several case studies that illustrate how many of facilitating dimensions can coexist for a single group or within a specific project setting.

In Chapter 8 and 9, e-mail, electronic discussion groups, and electronic chat rooms have facilitated the development of communities of practice-- a group whose members regularly engage in sharing and learning, based on their common interests during the past few years. Now MSN software like messenger or net-meeting with the popularity of ADSL offers a better environment for CSCW than ever before. The prediction of infrastructure for navigating interdisciplinary debates in this chapter has pointed out that web-based CSCW will be come sooner in terms of paradigm shift.



Finally, I would like to quote the claim in the preface of this book as follows,

“The age of mind refers to the shift in focus from the production and availability of information and its associated technology, to concerns about how people utilize that information, the barriers and challenges they face in accessing and interacting with information, what they do with information, and how it enables them to get on with their lives.”

Indeed, this book presents its pioneer role in the CSCW research, and gives visions on the application of CSAV. The experiences from case studies in this book will be highly valuable for any reader who is interested in information technology, computer-in-education, psychology, HCI, knowledge management, computer engineering, or policy makers.


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