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Discover How Socratic AI Fosters Critical Thinking and Collaboration to Combat Disinformation

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE) emphasised the importance of the moral and intellectual qualities of human beings. While Socrates did not leave behind any writings, his philosophical originality in method and speech primarily survives in the works of Xenophon and Plato, particularly in the early Platonic dialogues. Socrates’ method, known as the ‘maieutic’, involved the critical examination of people’s unquestioned ideas, and the extraction of their latent ideas, thereby making them conscious of their own opinions and beliefs. The Socratic method had a significant influence, not only on classical thinking but also on contemporary educational practicesIn modern adaptations of the Socratic method, individuals are guided through systematic questioning, with the aim of facilitating the development of critical thinking skills. 


robot hand and human hand reaching towards a graphic word - AI


The modern Socratic method encourages individuals to examine their beliefs, uncovering inherent and often unnoticed contradictions, biases, and stereotypes, in the context of various perspectives and viewpoints. As such, Socratic dialogical reasoning has been integrated with educational practices offering a pathway to foster critical thinking, creative skepticism, self-reflection, and comprehension. Case methods in online and virtual educational approaches have indicated that Socratic dialoguesare successful in promoting critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills. 


More recently, the Socratic method has been applied in combination with both educational technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), frequently denoted as ‘Socratic AI. A classification scheme has been proposed for technology-enhanced learning tools that utilise the Socratic method to support critical thinking. This scheme includes the critical thinking framework, the classical Socratic method, the modern Socratic method, and the Neo-Socratic group discussion method. 


Researchers have discussed and proposed formal models regarding the applicability and usefulness of the Socratic method, which involves individuals training with a chatbot to enhance their critical thinking skills. In addition, the concept of AI-framed Questioning has been introduced to convert AI-related information into questions, actively engaging users in thinking and offering support for their process of reasoning and critical thinking. Socratic AI has also received attention in regard to its impact on human enhancement and the ethical empowerment of personal and group moralityA human-centered perspective on AI and narrative technologies for human interaction pave the way for assisting in productive, moral, and genuine collaboration among humans in pursuit of critical thinking, collaborative inquiry, and collective argument mapping through computer-assisted tools. 

 

Improving critical thinking with collective argument mapping in a collaborative module as proposed by TITAN, is to enhance a group's ability to critically examine a potentially disinformation-laden topic by involving different perspectives and potential disagreements in a productive discussion. While the classical Socratic method offers a way to conduct one-to-one dialogue, a collaborative discussion must allow for many-to-many interactions. This challenge calls for a clear structure of the group discussion while preserving the objective of increasing participants' critical thinking level.


In accordance with the Socratic method, participants must be able to comprehend the claims, and critically examine their premises and counterarguments while having the potential to add a constructive contribution to the discussion. The most promising method for this task is computer-assisted argument mapping. Argument mapping is a visual representation or diagram that organizes and illustrates the structure of an argument, including its premises and conclusions, to facilitate understanding and analysis. It can enhance collective discussions by giving participants shared point of reference, visually clarifying the logical connections and reasoning within a current state of discussion, which promotes shared understanding and enables more effective collaboration. 


Several studies have found that argument mapping is an effective method for improving critical thinking. This is demonstrated by comparing the size of the effect on critical thinking to other methods, measured by standard deviations (SD). For instance, the first year of college results in an increase of 0.16-0.3 SD, while a semester of college with a mixed philosophy and critical thinking course results in a 0.38 SD increase. Conversely, the effect of a semester-long argument mapping course results in a much higher increase of 0.7-0.72 SD. 


Other studies have found that argument mapping improves analytical reasoning, mathematical reasoning, and essay writing. Additionally, computer-assisted argument mapping is more effective than the pen-and-paper method in recall, retention, and comprehension of information. 


The proposed explanation for this phenomenon suggests that argument mapping decreases the cognitive load of the person trying to analyse new information. Cognitive load refers to the burden placed upon an individual in using and distributing working memory resources during cognitive activities such as learning and problem-solving. The nature of a typical text article or speech is linear, sometimes making it difficult to decipher the reasoning and assimilate the information within a given narrative in which a variety of propositions are presented. This places the cognitive load on the reader to analyse and compare claims that are not in direct vicinity of each other. Argument maps decrease this cognitive load by presenting information in a nonlinear and more structured manner, reducing the need for attention switching between different parts of the text or speech and allowing more mental processing to be devoted to understanding logical relationships.

 

Additionally, collaborative computer-assisted argument mapping frames discussions as precise, merit-based, and focused on the validity of reasoning itself, rather than on the persons formulating a claim. Moreover, qualitative analysis indicates that with argument mapping, students take a more deliberate and fair-minded approach to examining controversial arguments. Therefore, we can expect the discussion to be more civil, with no personal attacks or other unpleasant failure modes of traditional forums and social media. Due to all of the above reasons, it is a promising framework for a collaborative module in the TITAN tool. 


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