Exclusive Interview with Mr. William Winfield, Director of the Annual Conference in Distance Teaching and Learning

July 6, 2005

Mr. William Winfield
Director of the Annual Conference in Distance Teaching and Learning

Dr. Saba:
The Annual Distance Teaching and Learning Conference is entering its third decade, how is the conference keeping up with all the changes in the field and new professionals who have joined distance education in recent years?

Mr. Winfield:
Thank you, Fred, for this opportunity to share a bit of our conference planning process. As you may have found in your own research, we are finding that distance education is changing in a variety of ways. During the 90’s, these changes were driven by the emergence of many new technologies. Today, we find the changes driven by the integration of these technologies deeper into the fabric of organizations and institutions. This has broadened the range of professional occupations that need to understand the practical applications involved with effective teaching and training at a distance. How to develop and manage quality teaching and learning has always been the core of our conference, and the continued strength of our attendance seems to indicate that our program continues to address changes in the field. Overall, the conference is responding to the changing needs of both administrators and developers by offering keynoters and issue forums along with very practical, how-to seminars and workshops on using the latest technologies to deliver effective teaching and learning. These are tied together with case study examples offered by the expanded course design showcases.

We are fortunate in having a very active conference planning committee that reviews the many proposals that are submitted and selects presentations and workshops that speak to current and emerging issues. In addition, many of our past keynote speakers respond to our annual January survey, providing a very rich environmental scan of the field of practice. This year, we have added a national advisory panel to help keep the conference focused on relevant issues of national importance. I should also note that our own Distance Education Certificate Program involves a similar cross section of professionals in the field, from higher education to military, business, and non-profits. Teaching these adult students online throughout the year keeps our staff constantly in touch with the changing experiences and needs of our attendees.

Dr. Saba:
Dr. Saba: What are some of the unique features of this year’s conference?

Mr. Winfield:
Along with expanding the Course Design Showcases to two days, this year’s conference will highlight new approaches to faculty support and instructional design. As distance education techniques become more integrated with classroom teaching and training, the roles of faculty and instructional support are shifting. Thursday’s conference forum will explore the dynamics of these shifts and present successful strategies being used to address them. Several new emerging technologies will also be featured this year. Designing for handheld devices will be covered in one of our seminars and one of our forums. In addition, the Dynamic Media Showcase and reception being held on Thursday evening will feature presentations by Macromedia, Sonic Foundry, Apple Digital Campus, and Streaming@UW.Streaming on new dynamic media tools for online course design. Finally, this year’s keynoters will provide some unique approaches to not only large-scale e-learning planning, but also new learning theories and productivity models.

The rapidly expanding use of online classes in K-12 education prompted us to add a topic track devoted to presentations on new methods and models. Virtual high schools and special education, as well as traditional community high schools, are now dealing with very eager and skilled “digital natives” looking for education as well as entertainment online. These young learners are also beginning to shift the priorities in higher education. The conference forum on Friday will explore how these visually-hungry learners are demanding more interactive multimedia and what course designers and developers can do to meet the demand.

Dr. Saba:
Dr. Saba: The conference is among the very few venues in which I can find a cross section of professionals from K-12 and higher education to business and industry, military, and government. Has the conference preserved this feature over the years?

Mr. Winfield:
The conference has always been proud of providing a rich forum for the cross-fertilization of ideas and best practices between higher education, business, government agencies, and the K-12 world. The pervasive expansion of Internet communication across all of these areas makes education and training all part of the same virtual community. Online students are transiting between education and work, expecting to find engaging and meaningful learning environments throughout their professional lives. The conference allows those who build these environments to compare notes, advice, and development tips often not found within their own institutional setting. It also allows professional distance educators to expand their own professional opportunities by making contact with new e-learning organizations and agencies across the country and world.

Dr. Saba:
Dr. Saba: I have always found several interesting items and contacts for future reference in the exhibits. What should we expect on the exhibit floor this year?

Mr. Winfield:
The number and variety of exhibitors in our exhibit hall has increased over the last two years. We have noticed that there is a closer match between attendee needs and the goods and services being displayed. Companies and organizations seem to be responding to suggestions by practitioners for new and improved products, and our attendees look forward to viewing the latest in products and services, comparing a variety of high quality solutions. We have many returning exhibitors and sponsors who have been great supporters of our conference over the years mixed with several first-timers representing a variety of new products, services, software, and resources. As the interest this year in obtaining booth space was much earlier in our process than in the past, I feel that exhibitors are recognizing the sales, networking, and partnership opportunities made possible by high representation of administration and management among our 1,000 attendees.

Dr. Saba:
Dr. Saba: Who should attend this conference?

Mr. Winfield:
As I mentioned earlier, the field of distance education is broadening and deepening. It’s no longer possible to define distance education by comparing it to classroom teaching. In fact, it is being grafted on to it through the pervasive use of course management systems to deliver online components to on-campus students. The roles and responsibilities of campus instructors and administrators are shifting, involving more instructional design for good online pedagogy. Our conference provides an excellent opportunity for those new to teaching with technology to immerse themselves in an intensive three-day experience, learning from and with experienced distance educators.

The same broad integration of e-learning is happening in business, government, and military organizations. New departments are being added to deliver asynchronous and synchronous training in cost effective ways. I urge experienced distance educators from these sectors to bring their new colleagues to the conference to share and expand their skill base and to network with similar trainers from around the country and the world. The conference offers special rates and facilities for groups to meet at the conference and to attend sessions and share their knowledge before returning to their separate organizations.

Thank you again, Fred, for this opportunity to explain and describe more fully our exciting conference program this year. We look forward to seeing you and your subscribers in Madison on August 3-5th.

Dr. Saba:
Dr. Saba: Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the 21st Annual Distance Teaching and Learning Conference with us. I am looking forward to attending the conference and hoping to see many of our readers there as well.

For more information about the conference and to register visit http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/

you can address specific questions about exhibiting to: Kimary Peterson, kimary@education.wisc.edu
William Winfield, Director, Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, University of Wisconsin -Madison

Bill Winfield began developing web based courses in 1994 when the practice was quite young. In addition to designing multilingual educational materials for The Babcock Institute for International Dairy Education and Research, he has worked with University of Wisconsin Learning Innovations on both academic and corporate online projects from 1996-1999. He currently teaches Designing for Online Learning as part of the Distance Education Certificate Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been the Director of the Annual Conference in Distance Teaching and Learning, since 1999.