The evolving and challenging world of distance education: e-textbooks, virtual labs, open courses … what’s next?

by Jane Terpstra, Director, Distance Education Professional Development at the Division of Continuing Studies

Demand for online learning remains high because of technology advances, diminishing state support, and leaner corporate training budgets. This year, educators are excited about teaching strategies using mobile apps, e-textbooks, virtual labs, and e-portfolios. Recent federal regulations for online delivery, open education resources, and open courses provide challenges for today’s distance education.

Now in its 28th year

The 28th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning offered by UW-Madison Continuing Studies continues to be a steadfast resource, bringing research into practice to meet the needs of online educators, learners, administrators, and support personnel. The conference is scheduled for Aug. 8-10 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center.

About 1,000 professionals come together each summer, either onsite or online, to present research findings, share best practices, learn new skills, and discuss challenges. Attendees come from across the U.S. and around the world. Some of this year’s presenters are arriving from Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, and Japan.

As its name suggests, this conference focuses on advances in distance teaching and learning, or as some describe, “…it’s where the rubber meets the road.” Our participants come to learn. Some come to learn how to begin teaching online. Many attend to gain skills in combining pedagogy and technology. Others enjoy the open exchange of ideas.

Two virtual sessions

No distance education conference is complete without the option to attend virtually and interact online. Thus, we partner with Sonic Foundry of Madison to offer two partial views of the conference this year, one focused on administration and the other on international perspectives. Virtual participants can view streamed, live video of select sessions, enter questions for speakers, and interact with other conference participants via chat.

Open education resources

The conference has been a long supporter of open education resources, making proceedings papers, videos, and resources publicly available in our searchable online Resource Library. Used by researchers and practitioners, this repository provides both retrospective and current insights into distance education.

Excellence is key

Programming excellence is critical to the conference mission. Each proposal is scored by three peer reviewers. We use evaluations to verify the quality and usefulness of our conference sessions. Our program also includes invited keynote speakers and panelists to stretch our attendees’ horizons. After each conference, we share detailed summaries of session evaluations with individual speakers, a unique feature valued by our presenters.

Whether you’re just curious about distance education or you’re an experienced online instructor, you can benefit from attending the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning.

Have you used a distance education course? What was your experience? Did you enjoy it? Did you learn the material that you wanted to? What kind of distance ed course was it? Online? by email?