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:

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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:

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.


The purpose of the session is as follows:

  1. To contribute to the knowledge base on critical thinking and discourse
  2. 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.
  3. To identify how critical thinking and academic discourse can be improved both in traditional education and in distance education.


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 ( 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.

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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.
















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