A new year – looking backwards

Question: What was the first article in the first issue of Distance Education

I thought I knew, but I’ve just discovered that I’ve been living under an illusion. As president of ODLAA, I should know something (a lot?!) about its history, especially its prestigious journal. So it came to me as something of a shock when I inadvertently discovered, when perusing online contents lists, that the first article in the first issue (1980) was NOT Des Keegan’s ‘On defining distance education’ as I had incorrectly believed for years, but Reed Coughlan’s ‘The mentor role in individualized education at Empire State College’!  

Now, with all due respect to Coughlan (which is something you say when you’re about to insult them), Keegan’s piece has gone on to be perhaps the most widely quoted article in the field, while his worthy contribution is probably referenced about as often as my own. Surely the editors (Des Keegan and Ian Mitchell) at the time would have realised that they had something that would at least stir spirited discussion within distance education circles, so why didn’t they put it ‘up front’? 

At first glance I thought I had the answer – perhaps they ordered the articles alphabetically by author? Yes, this worked for the first five: Coughlan, Keegan, McIntosh, Smith, Snowdon … but then came Grudgeon, so that theory collapsed. But did it? I’d been looking at the online contents lists, and decided to double-check with my personal hard-copy of Issue 1, Volume 1 (yes I have one!) in a box in my garage (still haven’t unpacked everything after three years). Yes, the contents were split into Articles, Reports and Surveys, Book Reviews, and In Retrospect, and the Articles were listed alphebetically by first author. I should have known that … or perhaps it’s even worse; maybe I did know it but have incurred another senior moment.

But enough self-flagellation. The first issue included some other significant pieces: one was Kevin Smith’s nice little overview of ‘Course development procedures’, and another was Snowdon and Daniel’s (yes, John Daniel, and we all know what happened to him!) ‘The economics and management of small post-secondary distance education systems’. I’m sure that many of us old-timers have referenced each of them on occasion (OK, occasions about two decades ago).

Let me leave you with a final question: What was the second book review in this first issue? I kid you not that it was Dohmen’s Externstudium: Internationale Entwicklungen zur Einbeziehung des Externenstudiums in den Hochschul- und Weiterbildungsbereich (apologies for any spelling errors!).

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  1. Pingback: » I had Volume 1, Number 1 … and lost it! David Murphy's Occasional Blog

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