Wedemeyer Award ceremony shows how far distance education has come

At the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference on Aug. 9-11, Ray Schroeder received the Mildred B. and Charles A. Wedemeyer Award for Outstanding Practitioner in Distance Education. Prominent thought leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison event marveled at how far distance education has come since Charles Wedemeyer’s pioneering efforts 70 years ago.

“Charles would be amazed to see 800 people sitting around tables discussing distance education,” said Penn State Professor Emeritus Michael G. Moore, addressing a packed exhibition hall.

Michael Moore
Back in 1985, Michael Moore wasn’t sure there were enough people to make a conference on distance education. Above: Wedemeyer Award winner Ray Schroeder (left) with master of ceremonies Curtis Bonk. (Photo by Scott Norris)

Wedemeyer (1911-1999) is considered the father of modern distance education. As director of UW-Madison’s Correspondence Study Program, he revolutionized education by advocating adult, distance, open, and independent learning. He saw technology as a tool for increasing access to education.

“His legacy is that he created a vision of education for everyone, not just for the wealthy or the gifted,” said Wedemeyer’s daughter Mary Beth Walker, who came to the awards ceremony from her home in Huntsville, Ala.

‘All about the student’

This year’s Distance Teaching & Learning Conference attracted college faculty and administrators, instructional designers, researchers, K-12 teachers, corporate and military trainers, and vendors of new technologies and services. Speakers presented up-to-date research on distance education, along with practical tips for translating research into practice. Monona Terrace, Madison’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed convention center, buzzed with activity on three levels as attendees went from workshops to keynotes to e-posters to networking receptions.

It was a far cry from the first Distance Teaching & Learning Conference in 1985, which Moore helped organize. Back then, he wondered if the event was ahead of its time.

“I wasn’t sure there were enough people to make a conference on distance education,” Moore said. “We had about a hundred in attendance.”

Things have changed, and the recipient of this year’s Wedemeyer Award is proof. Ray Schroeder’s credentials reflect the current prominence of distance education: associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois-Springfield; founder of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service; and director of the UPCEA Center for Online Leadership. Master of ceremonies Curtis Bonk noted Schroeder’s creative use of technology in teaching, his success with massive open online courses, and his resourcefulness in starting online programs.

In his speech, Schroeder said the connection among all Wedemeyer Award recipients is their interest in putting students at the center of education.

“It’s about all of us working together to provide high-quality online education,” he said. “It’s about opening opportunities to students all around the world. Let us keep in mind that it is truly all about the student.”