The ability to explain the causes of historical events is a key skill for learners to acquire, but the ill-structured nature of the task means they cannot be guided through a problem-space of well-defined moves to reach a correct answer. This paper investigates whether a knowledge-based computer coach can provide effective guidance to learners as they construct diagrammatic explanations of the causes leading to a particular event. The design of the coach was based on a model of expert reasoning synthesised from the historiographical literature and on an analysis of teacher-learner interactions observed during classroom activities. Coaching was provided at two levels: a) generalised (decontextualised) guidance and b) guidance directly relevant to the topic of study. Where appropriate, learners could choose to disregard the coach's advice. The knowledge-base underlying the coach could also be made available as a scaffolding aid. An evaluation with three groups of students aged 12-13 showed that i) maximal scaffolding and content-specific coaching resulted in diagrammatic explanations of greater accuracy and superior structural quality to those produced either with generalised guidance or with no guidance at all, and ii) learners' appreciation of the subjective nature of historical explanations was not compromised by the coaching interventions.
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