Students’ argumentation as they communicate about controversial agricultural issues

Willeke Rietdijk, Antri Christodoulou, Kathryn Garthwaite, Laurence Simonneaux

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


The aim of this study was to investigate how a pedagogical approach designed to promote productive discourse and undistorted communication (Habermas, 1984) can enable secondary school students to communicate about socioscientific issues (SSIs). A small-scale qualitative study design was employed to explore how a group of 13 Biology school students communicated about the badger – cattle controversy in the UK and the types of knowledge they use in this process. A pedagogical approach based on mapping controversies in combination with asynchronous online communication was designed and implemented across 3 lessons in order to facilitate the communication process amongst the students. The approach followed three stages: (a) familiarisation stage where mapping controversies was used as a tool for students to explore their knowledge, ideas and positioning in relation to the SSI, (b) exploration stage where students engaged in an asynchronous online exchange (blog) to discuss the issue and identify solutions, and (c) consolidation stage, where mapping controversies was again utilised, as a way to establish student knowledge and understanding. Our findings suggest that the approach was effective. The maps during the consolidation phase were conceptually different, showing that students had a more developed understanding of the complexity of the SSI. The themes found during the consolidation phase where extensively discussed during the exploration phrase. Students’ exploration of the issue during the online exchange allowed them to elaborate on their views and thinking, to question each other, and to draw on a range of knowledge types in their attempt to decide what should be done about the controversy. Implications for classroom practice and teacher education are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Socioscientific issues
  • Secondary science
  • Argumentation


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