Using Innovative and Scientifically-Based Debate to Build e-Learning Community


  • Cheng-Chia (Brian) Chen University of Illinois Springfield
  • Karen Swan University of Illinois Springfield



online debate, e-learning community, active learning, critical thinking, online teaching, online learning


The research described in this article explored the efficacy of a novel approach to recreating classroom debates online. Using a structured approach and collaborative group work, the researcher developed an approach that students found very useful in six different dimensions. The research also explored possible differences in perceptions stemming from students’ familiarity with online learning by comparing the perceptions of students enrolled in only online classes with those of students enrolled in primarily on-ground classes. No significant differences in any of the variables were found, indicating the efficacy of the approach for all students.

Author Biographies

Cheng-Chia (Brian) Chen, University of Illinois Springfield

Cheng-Chia "Brian" Chen is an Assistant Professor of Public Health in the Department of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Springfield. He obtained a Ph.D. in Health Behavior and two Master's degrees (Applied Statistics & Sports Marketing) from Indiana University-Bloomington. Dr. Chen's research has been broadly focused on health policy analyses, health promotion, and online teaching technology. His recent research projects include the investigation of the social determinants of obesity and related health conditions to enhance strategies for intervention, prevention, and health policy using multidimensional approaches. He teaches Biostatistics, Health Economics, Social Determinants of Health, Human Well-being, as well as Food, Health, and Public Policy for public health graduate/undergraduate students (for both online & on-campus sections). He was selected as a Faculty Research Fellow for the Center for the Online Learning, Research and Service (COLRS) and became the first professor at the College of Public Affairs & Administration in university history to win the Oakley Distinguished Online Teaching Award at the University of Illinois, Springfield, United States.

Karen Swan, University of Illinois Springfield

Premiere online scholar and James Stuckle professor, University of Illinois Southern; OLC Fellow and Outstanding Achievement Award in Online Learning; member of IACEHOF and significant role in development and dissemination of the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework. Karen Swan is the James J. Stukel Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and a Research Associate in the Center for Online Learning, Research, & Service (COLRS) at the University of Illinois Springfield. Karen’s research has been in the general area of electronic media and learning for the 25 years since she received her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University. For the past 20 years, she has been teaching online, researching online learning, and writing extensively about her experiences. She received the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) award for Outstanding Individual Achievement, National University Technology Network (NUTN) Distinguished Service Award, and the Burks Oakley II Distinguished Online Teaching Award for her work in this area. She is also an OLC Fellow and a member of the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame. In 2010 she also was given the Distinguished Alumni award by her alma mater.


Ascough, R. S. (2002). Designing for online distance education: Putting pedagogy before technology. Teaching Theology & Religion, 5(1), 17-29.

Bradshaw, M. J. (2017). Debate as a teaching strategy. In: M. J. Bradshaw & B. L. Hultquist (Eds), Innovative teaching strategies in nursing and related health professions. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Darby, M. (2007). Debate: A teaching-learning strategy for developing competence in communication and critical thinking. American Dental Hygienists' Association, 81(4), 78.

Driscoll, A., Jicha, K., Hunt, A. N., Tichavsky, L., & Thompson, G. (2012). Can online courses deliver in-class results? A comparison of student performance and satisfaction in an online versus a face-to-face introductory sociology course. Teaching Sociology, 40(4), 312-331.

Elliot, L. B. (1993). Using debates to teach the psychology of women. Teaching of Psychology, 20(1), 35-38.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.

Hadidi, R., & Sung, C. H. (2000). Pedagogy of online instruction: Can it be as good as face-to-face? Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) 2000 Proceedings, 288, 2061-2065.

Hahs-Vaughn, D. L. & Lomax, R. G. (2020). An introduction to statistical concepts (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Jiang, M., Ballenger, J., & Holt, W. (2019). Educational leadership doctoral students' perceptions of the effectiveness of instructional strategies and course design in a fully online graduate statistics course. Online Learning, 23(4), 296-312.

Keengwe, J., Onchwari, G., & Agamba, J. (2014). Promoting effective e-learning practices through the constructivist pedagogy. Education and Information Technologies, 19(4), 887-898.

Kennedy, R. (2007). In-class debates: Fertile ground for active learning and the cultivation of critical thinking and oral communication skills. International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, 19(2), 183-190.

Lall, S., & Singh, N. (2020). CoVid-19: Unmasking the new face of Education. International Journal of Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences, 11(Suppl. 1), 48-53.

Lin, S. J., & Crawford, S. Y. (2007). An online debate series for first-year pharmacy students. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 71(1, Article 12), 1-8.

Mitchell, E. T. (2019). Using Debate in an Online Asynchronous Social Policy Course. Online Learning, 23(3), 21-33.

Moore, C. (2016). The future of work: What Google shows us about the present and future of online collaboration. Tech Trends, 60(3), 233-244.

Peasah, S. K., & Marshall, L. L. (2017). The use of debates as an active learning tool in a college of pharmacy healthcare delivery course. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 9(3), 433-440.

Richardson, J. C. & Ice, P. (2010). Investigating students level of critical thinking across instructional strategies in online discussion. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 52-59.

Roy, D. P. (2012). Promoting active learning of ethical issues in marketing communications using debates. Marketing Education Review, 22(1), 73-76.

Seaman, J. E., Allen, I. E. & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States. Retrieved from

Shea, P. & Swan, K. (2020). What e-learning leaders should know about learning effectiveness. In Miller, G., & Ives, K. Leading the e-learning transformation of higher education: Leadership strategies for the next generation (2nd ed., pp. 75-95). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Stockleben, B., Thayne, M., Jäminki, S., Haukijärvi, I., Mavengere, N. B., Demirbilek, M., & Ruohonen, M. (2017). Towards a framework for creative online collaboration: A research on challenges and context. Education and Information Technologies, 22(2), 575-597.

Tu, C. H., & Corry, M. (2002). eLearning communities. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 3(2), 207-18.

Wolfe, K. A., & Uribe, S. N. (2020). What we wish we would have known: Tips for online instructors. College Teaching, 1-3. doi: 10.1080/87567555.2020.1711701

Zare, P., & Othman, M. (2013). Classroom debate as a systematic teaching/learning approach. World Applied Sciences Journal, 28(11), 1506-1513.

Zhou, W., Simpson, E., & Domizi, D. P. (2012). Google Docs in an out-of-class collaborative writing activity. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 24(3), 359-375.






2020 OLC Conference Special Issue