Critical Thinking and Discourse in Distance Education and Traditional Education A one-hour panel session at the International Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) held in Dallas, Texas, November 12-16, 2002
Organizers: Lya Visser and Yusra Visser Panelists: Gary Anglin, Carmen Lamboy, Bruce Roemmelt, Howard Solomon, Lya Visser Chair: Yusra Visser
The following items concerning the above session are presented on this page:
To top of page
AECT ANNUAL MEETING 2002 CRITICAL THINKING AND DISCOURSE IN DISTANCE EDUCATION AND TRADITIONAL EDUCATION CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES Proposed Panel Session Organizers: Lya Visser and Yusra Visser Panelists: Gary Anglin, Carmen Lamboy, Bruce Roemmelt, Howard Solomon, Lya Visser
The purpose of this panel discussion is to discuss the question of how university instructors assist students in developing critical thinking and academic discourse skills in distance education and traditional education contexts?
The basic premise underlying the proposed discussion is that critical thinking and academic discourse play an important role in all levels of education, and particularly in graduate-level education. Critical thinking and discourse should create new understandings among learners. Critical thought and discourse are central in where quality, cost, and continuous adaptation to the changing environment are major drivers for what people do in the workplace. If we agree that the classroom is -and has been - the traditional place for learning, how then do we meet those particular need to focus on critical thought and discourse in an asynchronous distance education environment?
The role of critical thinking in education has been recognized through the centuries. In fact, it was Socrates who, through discourse, already challenged his students to become critical thinkers who know how to ask and formulate questions, and who develop a profound understanding of the issues they discuss and investigate.
Critical thought requires the development of problem solving skills, dialogical interaction with the outside thought, and creativity. Traditionally, debating sessions, interactive classes and group work encouraged the discussion among students so that they could formulate problems, challenge assumptions, construct theories and explore and suggest solutions that then would, hopefully, generate new knowledge and understanding. Learning environments - especially at the graduate level - then, are designed with a strong emphasis on creating the conditions that enable and support the development of critical thinking skills.
In recent years, distance learning has become an increasingly prominent aspect of learning and instruction. However, there are fundamental differences in the challenges and opportunities that are afforded in distance learning environments, when compared to traditional (classroom-based) learning environments. The question that arises is; "How do we develop, and encourage, critical thought and constructive discourse in distance education?" A number of significant issues come to mind in considering this question:
- Knowledge communities: Learning and instruction are placed on a range from "individual" to "social". In the complex landscape of learning, certain elements of the learning process are considered to reside primarily within the individual, and others are considered to reside in the dynamic that is created through interaction with other entities and individuals in the environment. Increasingly, the building of knowledge communities, where individual members' work collaboratively to generate new understandings, is emphasized in the instructional setting. The implications of the dimensions of asynchronous and synchronous learning environments to the development of knowledge communities -that validate their knowledge through interaction with other communities - must be explored further.
- Authentic practice: Research in educational design presently argues in strong support of the notion that essential skills for negotiating real life complexity cannot be developed in isolation from the authentic context in which such skills are to be applied. Indeed, current research supports the notion that discovery-oriented learning environments are essential for the development and effective transfer of higher order skills applied in critical thinking, problem solving, and negotiation of information. Since distance learning environments differ from classroom-based environments in ways that are central to the notion of "authentic practice" the strengths and weaknesses of each of these environments for developing and applying critical thinking and discourse skills must be considered.
- Parity of esteem: While distance learning is occupying an increasingly prominent place in formal instruction, most efforts to integrate and "validate" distance learning environments emerge from efforts to demonstrate "equality" in the learning environments and learning outcomes of distance learning relative to classroom-based learning. This has provided substantial encouragement to distance educators to demonstrate the effectiveness of distance learning environments from an instructional standpoint. However, it has also resulted in the design of distance learning environments that - while fundamentally different in nature from classroom-based instruction - model after traditional instruction in terms of instructional design and instructional goals. Further thought and inquiry must be given to determining the strength of this approach, and to the role that distance learning environments can play - due to their unique nature and history - in overcoming barriers faced in traditional face-to-face instruction in terms of the development and communication of critical thinking skills.
- Cultural dynamics and discourse: Students in traditional classroom-based learning environments may come from a variety of different backgrounds in terms of their social culture and learning culture. However, they exercise and develop their academic growth within a fairly fixed community operating within the culture and values prescribed by the institution that they are attending. This differs significantly from distance learning environments, in which learners continue to operate within their own social and cultural contexts, and thus more readily integrate this familiar context within a distance learning environment that operates on the terms defined by the members of the course or program. As a result, differences in culture and practice more readily integrate themselves in the distance learning environment. This places unique demands on distance learners to negotiate their way through the range of cultural dynamics present in the learning environment. As a result, it is likely that critical discourse and thought in such distance learning contexts is fundamentally different in nature from classroom-based contexts. This notion must be explored further through collaborative efforts of learning specialists and practitioners in both distance and classroom-based settings.
- Cognition and media: It has been extensively argued that different media affect learner's cognitive processes in different ways. In considering the cognitive processes essential to higher order cognitive functioning, the effect of differing media on the development of such skills must be explored further. In addition, such inquiry must seek to address the fundamental goals of modern educational design, in which the primary effort is to develop individuals capable of interacting with a complex and changing world, and capable of adapting their learning and cognitive processes as their realities change and evolve.
It is the intent of the panelists for this proposed session to explore the different dimensions of developing critical thinking and discourse skills in distance and classroom-based contexts through discussion of research and practice in both learning modalities.
PURPOSE OF THE SESSION
The purpose of the session is as follows:
- To contribute to the knowledge base on critical thinking and discourse
- To encourage discussion of the issues in the design of learning environments to support the development of critical thinking and discourse skills, so that the education technology community expands its knowledge.
- To identify how critical thinking and academic discourse can be improved both in traditional education and in distance education.
NATURE OF THE PROPOSED SESSION
The proposed panel session will have six panel members. Panel members are practitioners and researchers in the both distance education and classroom-based education settings.
The panel session will be moderated by Yusra Laila Visser (vice president, Learning Development Institute).
All session attendees will be strongly encouraged to actively participate in the discussion, which will be started by the moderator, and then turned over in sections to the panelists. The role of the moderator will be to ask many of the pertinent questions concerning the topic and to draw out different views and opinions on how critical thinking and discourse can be realized in traditional and distance education.
In preparation for the panel discussion, the panel members will generate a position statement, in which they will reflect on the critical questions for the panel session, incorporating research and theory where appropriate. These position statements will be published on the web site of the Learning Development Institute (http://www.learndev.org). Furthermore, the participating professors will provide a document that presents an overview of the subject and a resource list for further study. The position statements and background materials will be made available well ahead of the conference dates, and will be distributed to audience members attending the panel session at the conference.
Due to the nature of the session, the emphasis will be on an interactive, participatory approach among panelists and attendees alike. Panelists will provide a forum for discussion through their individual views, which then can be responded to by other panelists and session participants. The moderator will assist in focussing the discussion along the broad themes of the topic.
This discussion is submitted to the Distance Education SIG. Because of the topic's great interest, however, sponsorship from any other additional sections is welcomed.
To top of page
Critical Thinking and Discourse in Distance Education and Traditional Education Slide Presentation
The slide show on Critical Thinking and Discourse in Distance Education and Traditional Education, was presented at the International Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, held in Dallas, TX, November 12-16, 2002, in the framework of a panel session involving, in addition to the organizers Lya Visser and Yusra Laila Visser (who chaired the session), Gary Anglin, Carmen Lamboy, Bruce Roemmelt, and Howard Solomon.
To top of page