Twenty-five years ago, the late Freeman VanWickler anticipated today’s harsh educational climate and began to prepare for it.
VanWickler saw distance learning as the only way small rural school districts could overcome the challenges of demographics and geography and provide quality education at affordable prices. Under his leadership, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New York’s Delaware, Chenango, Madison, and Otsego counties had an nationally recognized distance learning program.
In that pre-Internet era, classes were created by dial-up connections between computers, which delivered graphic content, while audio was provided by speakerphone. The program’s best teachers, such as Michael Foor-Pessin of Otselic Valley Central School District, former Colgate University and Norwich High School teacher Raymond T. Howes, and College of Saint Rose special education professor Edward Pieper, understood how to overcome the audiographic technology’s limitations by focusing on its assets: It was an almost ideal medium for small group instruction.
Unfortunately, the policy makers of the DCMO BOCES could not see understand how students could possibly learn when they could not see a teacher lecture. And today’s drivers of online education—declining funding, teacher reductions, emphasis on post-secondary education—were years away.
Distance learning seemed a silly waste of money to school boards and administrators.
VanWickler relentlessly sought publicity and funding for the program, but it was a battle he lost.
When VanWickler retired, under his successor the distance learning program was dismantled.
Today VanWickler’s successor has retired, and distance learning is the fastest growing segment of education.
Freeman A. VanWickler
June 18, 1927 – April 13, 2010
[fixed broken link 2016-01-31]