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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Beng Huat See

See, B.H. (2016). An investigation into the teaching and learning of argumentation in first year undergraduate courses: A pilot study. British Journal of Education Society and Behavioural Science 18(4): 1-25.

Author(s) from Durham


A fundamental role of universities is to develop independent and critical thinkers. An effective strategy to do this is a good command of argumentative skills. This paper presents the results of a one-year pilot study examining the teaching and learning practices of argumentation among first year undergraduates across three disciplines in UK universities. Data were drawn from surveys, interviews and documentary analysis. The results indicated that students were less likely to be taught the use of arguments at university than they were at school. Although argumentation was deemed as an important skill by students and lecturers, it was neither taught nor emphasised in most first year undergraduate courses. Only in history was the skill emphasised and practised. The course structure, mode of testing, the assessment criteria and the lecturer’s own understanding of argumentation determined to a certain extent whether argumentation was encouraged. There was no consistency and conscious effort to develop such skills among undergraduates. There is some evidence that where argumentative skills were encouraged students were more critically aware. If we agree that argumentative skills contribute to the development of a better quality of knowledge and cultivation of a rational and human society, then it should be encouraged and supported. The role of universities as simply a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge needs to be reconsidered, and how students are assessed and evaluated needs to be reviewed.