The introduction of technologies into educational situations can be seen as an ‘expansive’ process that stimulates the elaboration of new practices rather than as a matter of adding to and rendering more efficient a pre-formed and unchanging activity. Technology appropriation is the set of pro- cesses by which an artefact becomes an instrument for subjects, a hybrid technico-cognitive entity comprising the tangible features and affordances of the artefact with its associated usage schemas. Instrumentalization can also include ways in which users of artefacts can try to ‘get round’ creatively their uses intended by designers, termed catachresis.2 In col- laborative learning situations, appropriation of arte- facts has been described as the set of transitions among individual mastery of the tools (knowing how to use the interface), personal utilization (using the interface to perform educationally relevant tasks), and collective utilization.
The initial aims of our work can therefore be described as attempting to favour the appropriation, by the system comprising the school, the teacher and the students, of a pedagogical approach termed computer-supported collaborative argumentation- based learning, with the peda- gogical aim of enabling students to ‘broaden and deepen’ their understanding of a ‘space of debate’. There is now a substantial research literature on the role of argumentation in collaborative learning. An important issue here is the necessity to find school- based topics that are debateable. Another is the necessity for students to argue across a variety of argumentative tasks (teacher-led debates, argumentative text and diagram writing, and small-group discussions) to favour deep and stable argumentative knowledge reconstruction. There are two main interactive processes of knowledge creation associated with argumentative interactions: justification (the production of arguments or counter-arguments) and negotiation of meaning
On the side of educational practice, debates are pres- ently strongly encouraged within the French national curriculum, whether at primary or at secondary school level. They are seen not only as methods for learning in specific disciplines (e.g. native language, citizenship, history-geography) but also as means for developing cross-disciplinary skills of argu- mentation and communication. It has, however, been claimed that many teachers avoid organizing debates, principally because it is not clear exactly what should be learned from them, whether this is an efficient method of learning, and how such learning should be evaluated.