Intervew with William Winfield, Director 18th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning

August 1, 2002
As we are approaching the 18th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, would you please comment on some of the new and unique features of the conference this year?

William Winfield-
The Annual Conference has a long history of being a place wheredistance educators can freely exchange experiences and ideas for improving the effectiveness of distance courses and training. This year’s move to the Monona Terrace Convention center in the heart of Madison will allow us to offer a state of the art presentation facility close to the UW campus and downtown social events. We have added two new events to this year’s program that we hope will add participation and depth to the conference.

The Online Course Showcase will feature 24 additional presentations of web delivered courses in an “electronic poster session” setting.

The two all day New Directions Forums will allow attendees to participate in in-depth discussions with panels of nationally known distance educators about critical issues of research, best practice and content development and management. And, as usual, we look forward to the wide variety of information sessions, workshops and advanced seminars that are the core of the conference’s full ‘menu’ of rich information for the one thousand annual attendees.

You have chosen a new venue for the conference this year. Could you tell us about what prompted the conference organizers to change to the new location, and what participants in the conference could expect to see in the new place?

William Winfield-

Our previous location at the Marriott conference center on the outskirts of Madison provided an excellent venue for the conference as it grew during the past 10 years. With the increasing complexity of technology required to support the presentation of new network delivered courses we found the hotel based facility limited our opportunities for meeting the needs of the presenters and attendees. The Monona Terrace facility has been aggressively upgraded with both fast Internet access and broadband links to the University of Wisconsin’s Internet 2 hub. This will allow us to feature broadband video conferenceing presentations both to and from the conference in the future.

This year we look forward to a joint effort with Janet Poley of ADEC to use Internet 2 as part of an advanced seminar about combining the power of broadband networking with what we already know about teaching and learning using video.

I remember the humble beginnings of this conference, when only a few practitioners and researchers got together in Madison to discuss recent developments in the field. In recent years, however, we have seen the formation of many conferences around country about distance education and e-learning. Yet, Madison continues to grow. To what do you attribute the success of this conference, and its steady growth and popularity?

William Winfield-

I think the Annual Conference has always been seen as a “practitioner based” conference. It is not part of a national organization or corporate vendor environment. We rely on a strong response to our call for proposals and base the content of the conference on what distance educators themselves are discussing. I think this resonates with our attendees. We do have a small full time staff that spends all year working with presenters to make sure the conference is well organized. But perhaps what distinguishes the conference most is that it does focus on the human factors that make distance education successful no matter which technology is used. Having spanned 18 years now, these technologies have shifted focus many times, from audio to video to Internet, but the conference has kept it’s attention on how educators can best serve the needs of distance students no matter which communication system is used. We always strive to feature the effective

use of new technologies by providing a conference environment free of commercial promotion that allows a lively discussion of problems as well as solutions.

Thank you for your comments.


Winfield began developing web based courses in 1994 when the practice was quite young. In addition to designing multilingual educational materials for The Babcock Institiute for International Dairy Education and Research, he has worked with University of Wisconsi Learning Innovations on both academic and corporate online projects from 1996-1999. He currently teach 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.