Previous research on the use of diagrams for argumentation instruction has highlighted, but not conclusively demonstrated, their potential benefits. We examine the relative benefits of using diagrams and diagramming tools to teach causal reasoning about public policy. Sixty-three Carnegie Mellon University students were asked to analyze short policy texts using either: 1) text only, 2) text and a pre-made, correct diagram representing the causal claims in the text, or 3) text and a diagramming tool with which to construct their own causal diagram. After a pretest and training, we tested student performance on a new policy text and found that students given a correct diagram (condition 2 above) significantly outperformed the other groups. Finally, we compared learning by testing students on a third policy problem in which we removed all diagram or tool aids and found that students who constructed their own diagrams (condition 3 above) learned the most. We describe these results and interpret them in a way that foreshadows work we now plan for a cognitive-tutor on causal diagram construction.
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