Argumentation and Critical Decision Making



Teaching Argumentation and Critical Decision Making

Keywords: communication argumentation, critical decision making, speech, debate, groups, public speaking, small group communication, group decision making

Debates as a teaching strategy date back over 2,000 years to Protagoras in Athens and remain a curricular staple in modern colleges and universities. Recognized as one of the best methods for learning and developing critical thinking skills and oral communication skills debates cultivate active learning and engagement through social interaction with others.

     The active learning provided by in-class debates engages students in higher-order thinking which requires them to analyze, synthesize, discuss, and apply the content they have read. Among other desired student learning outcomes, in-class debates challenge students to define a problem, evaluate the credibility of sources, identify and recognize the biases and assumptions in arguments, and prioritize the relevance and salience of various points within an argument. The course in argumentation and critical decision making empowers students to listen to others, develop empathy, and develop other skills necessary to overcome polarization, equipping them with the ability to engage in thoughtful civic discussion.

  This introductory course in argumentation and critical decision making teaches students to think critically for the purpose of participating in the process of public decision making and understanding how discussion, argumentation, and persuasion function as communication forms for that process. At several universities, this course meets the general education requirement for both humanities and oral communication.

  The syllabus included in this article provides a course description, course objectives, course assignments, weekly schedule, course assessments, and course policies for the course in argumentation and critical decision making. This course meets three times a week, face-to-face. Two of the meetings are with each student's section and one of the meetings is a weekly Assembly of all sections.

  This course meets several desired student learning outcomes. After taking this course, students should be able to: 1) think critically and communicate effectively in groups; 2) listen to the discourse of others actively, evaluate it fairly, and respond thoughtfully; 3) actively participate in discussions, dialogues, deliberation, and debate; 4) use research skills to find credible sources of information, to evaluate them critically, and to rely upon them in deliberations; 5) exercise self-awareness and intercultural awareness during group deliberations; 6) build group consensus through careful deliberation; and 7) adapt communication ethically with respect to the values and diversity of others.

Author Biography

Caroline S. Parsons, University of Alabama

Assistant Professor of Communication Studies

The University of Alabama