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NEWSLETTER: VOL IV, #5, March 26, 1999

by Donna Stewart,* Chair
Industrial Management Department, UW-Stout

WONDER: Fairy Tale or Virtual Reality?

Once upon a time, in a far away land, known to the early timber barons and Indians as Menomonie, a proposal was drafted and approved to offer the Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology to populations in areas other than the local classrooms. This proposal was based on the notion that "if you send them, they will come."   In addition, faculty who traveled to other locations were delivering their material in essentially the same format as they employed at their home campus. After approval, the idea slept quietly until in 1995 when support in a variety of forms "kissed" the proposal back to life.

Through collaboration between UW-Stout, the Technical Colleges, and the UW Colleges, new life was breathed into the original proposal. The updated version described "classrooms" with faculty at UW-Stout simultaneously teaching to local and remote populations over the WONDER system. In the fall of 1996, the first cohort of 58 students, all with completed technical associate degrees, began a bachelor degree program with students in Menomonie (the sender site), and Appleton and Wausau (the receiver sites); the receiver classrooms were located on the Fox Valley Technical College and North Central Technical College campuses, respectively. Each semester students participated in one or two professional studies courses provided by UW-Stout at all three locations through WONDER’s live, two-way audio-video network. Students worked with local advisers at the UW Center campuses to select the appropriate liberal studies courses to complete their bachelor’s degree.

The technology has served UW-Stout and the students well. The first student graduated from the program in August of 1998, and several more students plan to graduate in 1999. The educational experience, however, is not only about the transfer of information or knowledge from one person to another through reliable technology. During the past several years many other issues related to using innovative learning technologies have surfaced.

While we perfect the technology to help deliver information for educational purposes, we also need to prepare faculty for classrooms having a variety of situations: rooms equipped with cameras, screens, and microphones; the limited timeframe available to move hardcopy documents between locations; and non-traditional students. Institutions need to be prepared to provide students with services in ways never imagined before. Electronic transmission of information, advisement, and payment becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Despite these added issues, is there a future for the continued use of innovative learning technologies at UW-Stout? Absolutely. This past fall, a second cohort of students was admitted with participants in Appleton, Wausau, Menomonie, and La Crosse, and yet another group was admitted for the spring of 1999 with participants in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Madison, and Menomonie. Compressed video has been used to reach the most recently admitted students.

While the first offerings have relied on the live two-way audio and video transmission provided by the WONDER system, a variety of delivery methods are currently being examined for future offerings, including two courses (in development) to be offered asynchronously via the Internet. Additionally, other innovative, as well as some traditional, distance methods are under consideration to help provide the best education, in the most flexible manner possible. Our goal is to meet student needs: education where, when, and how they want it.

*The author has served as the first director of the program, taught three courses (she's currently teaching a fourth), and has advised many of the students involved.  As the director, she has worked with the faculty, registration, the bursar, admissions, rental resources, financial aid, technical staff at UW-Stout and elsewhere.  For more information about the program, please contact Donna Stewart, email: