Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Instructor: Mara Harrell
Course: 80-100: Introduction to Philosophy, Philosophy Department, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Assessment: Pre & Post Tests for Assessing the Effectiveness of an Argument Mapping Tool for Teaching


The main challenge that students face in my classes is reading and understanding philosophical texts, especially primary sources. Most students can understand a text’s theme but cannot identify its argument. I gave my students argument mapping software that provided a visual template for identifying the different parts of a text’s argument. These pre- and post-tests are intended to assess how effectively students learn to read and construct philosophical arguments with the argument mapping software.


I designed pre- and post-tests that aligned with the course objectives. Each test contained 6 questions that asked the student to analyze different parts of a short argument and to create an argument map. The arguments used on the pre- and post-tests were identical in structure but not in content. The pre-test was administered during the first week of class, and the post-test was administered on the last day of the semester. Most answers were coded as correct or incorrect, but the argument map itself was graded qualitatively. Multiple sections of this course are taught each semester, and some sections were a control group that did not learn argument mapping but still participated in the pre- and post-testing.


Overall, the students gained skill in analyzing philosophical arguments between the pre-test and the post-test. Also, students who learned argument mapping showed greater gains in analytic skill than those who did not. 


I have worked with colleagues in HCI to develop a customized argument mapping program that is accessible to other philosophy faculty. I am also working with faculty who teach introductory argument courses in other departments to use argument mapping and pre- and post-testing in these courses.

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