Trail blazers

The EDEN Conference in Lisbon this year runs like a Who’s Who in of Distance Education and so it should. EDEN is one of the largest of its kind and everyone seems to flock here each year to rub shoulders with the good and the great. OK, so I’m waxing a little lyrical, but last night I had conversations with some long serving distance educators and what many would consider pioneers in the field, and it is a little humbling to think how much they did to lay the foundations of what has become a huge global force in education.

Tony Bates is here, and tells me he celebrates 70 years on this planet next year. Michael Moore is here, taking a sabbatical in the UK this coming autumn, before his final year at Penn State. I met them both for the first time at a conference in Turkey in 1997, and didn’t know who either of them were. I do now. Got their books, collected the handshakes.

Desmond Keegan is on the list of delegates and so is Torstein Rekkedal, who picked up a Senior EDEN Fellow award at the reception event. Alan Tait presides over the EDEN family in his perpetually genial mode. I also met Lani Gunawardena for the first time, over from New Mexico to take part, and look forward to hearing her keynote address later this week. There are others here who would probably love to be mentioned in the same blog as these uber-professionals. But I won’t. There is a subtle shuffling for position from some of the younger pretenders, but the simple fact is, most of the above people were in distance education before it was called distance education, and most of them grappled with connecting remote learners when there was little to choose from but correspondence courses and audio conferencing.

With the advent of Web 2.0, mobile phones and wireless technologies, their theories and exploits may seem a little dusty and out of date. But make no mistake, without their dedication and prescience, we would not be in the healthy position we are in now with virtual universities, e-learning and any-time, any-where education. So raise a glass to the trail blazers of distance education. I’m glad I met them. Oh, and the picture above is one I took over the parapet at St George's Castle yesterday. It's a view across the north of the city. Wish you were here?

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