COVID-19 updates: The Distance Teaching & Learning conference will be held online from August 3-7, 2020. For the latest, view Continuing Studies COVID-19 updates.

Robin DeRosa explores the value of ‘distance’ at Distance Teaching & Learning Conference

Distance Teaching & Learning Conference Keynote Speaker Robin DeRosa instructs students at Plymouth State University's Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative

For keynote speaker Robin DeRosa, the concept of “distance learning” contains some complicated ironies. We develop online classes to recreate the experience of the face-to-face classroom. We create “personalized” learning pathways driven by computer-generated algorithms.

Instead of trying to make our online spaces more like traditional face-to-face environments, why not appreciate the inherent differences distance education offers? And why not leverage those differences to better serve learners?

UW-Madison Distance Teaching & Learning Conference Keynote Speaker Robin DeRosa
DeRosa (also pictured above): “With distance learning, the key is: don’t start with the technology, but with the humans and their experience.”

These are just a few of the questions DeRosa will examine in her keynote speech at the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference. Now in its 35th year, the annual conference on August 6-8 explores the latest research-based approaches for providing access to higher education through technology. Internationally recognized experts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other North American institutions will deliver more than a hundred presentations, panels, and workshops at Madison’s scenic Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Nearly 800 attendees, including higher education faculty and staff, instructional designers, and workforce trainers, will learn ways to give students more control over how they pursue an education.

What’s distance got to do with it?

DeRosa’s talk, “Personal Space: Rethinking ‘Distance’ Learning,” will ask participants to consider distance as a fruitful condition of learning.

“In a kind of homage to Tina Turner, I ask ‘What’s distance got to do with it?’” DeRosa explains. “We tend to want to do everything we can to make ‘distance’ an invisible part of ‘distance learning,’ and we celebrate the techniques we have for making online learning feel more personal, immediate, synchronous, and maybe even ‘real.’ But maybe there is a value in distance, and a way that the concept and how we design around it could be useful to our students.”

In particular, DeRosa will examine how distance can help learners build relationships, collaborate more effectively, and critically evaluate our world. Attendees will gain practical takeaways.

“We’ll think together about how we might design our syllabi, assignments, projects, courses, and programs to take advantage of distance in ways we haven’t necessarily done before,” says DeRosa. “I will share some examples to get us moving from the conceptual to the concrete.”

UW-Madison Distance Teaching & Learning Conference
The 35th annual Distance Teaching & Learning Conference explores the latest research-based approaches for providing access to higher education through technology.

Start with the humans

DeRosa is the director of Plymouth State University’s Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative, a professional development hub with a commitment to innovative instructional design, open education, and interdisciplinary learning. She is internationally known for her work designing learner-driven structures that reduce barriers to college enrollment and empower students to engage in their own learning.

“My work in the Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative is about centering innovation squarely on learners, and rethinking educational structures and approaches based on how humans best connect with and support one another in learning,” she says. “With distance learning, the key is: don’t start with the technology, but with the humans and their experience.”

DeRosa is impressed with the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference, saying that it is “less like a conference and more like an experience!” She points to the “community-building ethos” of DT&L, noting that it “cares as much about building relationships and creating community as it does about assuring that presentations are high quality.”

To learn more about the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference or to register, see the conference website. For additional information, contact conference director Wendy Fritz, 608-265-2679, wendy.fritz@wisc.edu.