Convince Me is a computer program designed to help students learn to think about their own reasoning strategies. The program provides a structure within which students can explicitly define and quantify their reasoning on a problem or argument and then attempt to “convince” the computer program of the validity of their reasoning. By repeatedly testing and refining the coherency of their arguments, students are encouraged to critically examine their reasoning.
Students type in short, sentence-like statements or propositions related to a problem or argument: things they believe and are sure of, and beliefs/things they’re not so sure of. The program asks them to categorize each proposition as a “hypothesis” or as a piece of “evidence” and to indicate how reliable (on a scale from 1 to 3) they feel a piece of evidence is. The students can indicate which of their propositions explain or contradict other propositions. Finally, the students rate how strongly they believe each of the propositions they have entered, from completely disbelieved or rejected (1) to completely believed or accepted (9). The figure below shows a Convince Me summary window for an argument concerning evolution vs creationism.
The structure that the student has created is represented in a graphical network form in the upper right corner of the window. Hypotheses are indicated by round icons and evidence by square icons. The propositions are linked together by lines, where solid lines represent explanatory links and the dashed lines represent a competing or contradictory link.
When the students are satisfied that they have adequately defined their reasoning on a problem, they can run the Convince Me simulation. Using the argument structure the students have created, the program will compute it’s own “belief” rating for the elements of the argument. An overall correlation between the students’ ratings and the computer-generated ratings can also be computed. If the correlation is low, the student can go back and reevaluate the structure of the argument to see if something is missing or not as well defined as they would like it to be.Convince Me uses a computer program called ECHO to model the user’s reasoning strategies. ECHO is a computer model based on a theory called the “Theory of Explanatory Coherence” (TEC). In ECHO, arguments are represented as networks of nodes (like knots in a net). A hypothesis or piece of evidence is represented by a node, and explanatory or contradictory relations are represented by links between nodes. Hypothesis evaluation is treated as the satisfaction of constraints determined from the explanatory relations (that is, explanations and/or contradictions), TEC’s principles, and from a few numerical parameters. Given a network of statements and relations between them, node activations are updated in parallel using a simple “connectionist” settling scheme. When the network of statements settles (or stabilizes), the nodes representing the most mutually coherent hypotheses and evidence are active, and the nodes representing inconsistent rivals are deactivated.
Given a scenario such as the one in the figure above, ECHO generates a numerical value for each statement that indicates how much it “believes” the statement. In general, the more positive the value, the more ECHO “believes” the statement; the more negative the value, the more ECHO “disbelieves” the statement.
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