News Archive

Father of Online Learning at WKCTC

In August 1970, the Women's Strike for Equality took place in New York City. That same month and year, more than 600,000 people attended the Isle of Wight Festival in England and Diana Ross and The Supremes performed a farewell concert in Las Vegas.

And in Paducah, William Wade walked on the campus of Paducah Community College (PCC) for the first time to accept a position as a reading instructor. He took the job because it was an opportunity for him to come home to take care of his mother following the death of his father. Forty years later, Wade, dean of online learning at what is now West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is still a champion for education, but especially distance learning, and a good son to his mother, who will celebrate her 100th birthday next month.

Wade, who has no plans of retiring, reflected on the changes in education in his 40 years at the community college. He said he has enjoyed his time at the college because his motivation for teaching and the colleges students first philosophy matched perfectly and has never changed over the years. I guess thats why I hung around for 40 years - and Im not done yet.

Wade, a native of Fulton County, earned a master of science degree in education with an emphasis in reading from the University of Virginia in August 1970. He was teaching reading at an elementary school in Glasgow, VA, when he was offered a teaching position at PCC. I was so excited to be on a college campus, Wade said. He taught reading courses at the community college for 10 years the only reading classes offered in the area at that time.

In 1976, Wade developed his first education course, a two-year program to train teachers aides. He also opened and coordinated the PCC daycare that provided students in his teaching aide program the opportunity to gain experience with children, while also offering daycare services to PCC students.

During that same two-year period Wade also developed and edited

  • Square Pegs in Round Holes -- a college literary journal.

He later established and edited several other publications in his career including: the

  • Open Door -- a PCC literary journal from 1991-94
  • Journal of the Jackson Purchase Historical Society in 2004-06.

But the area in which Wade will forever leave his mark at the community college is in distance learning. In 1985, he earned a master of art degree in English from Murray State University and began teaching English full time. Before graduation, however, Wade got his first introduction to the speed and efficiency of computers. His last paper had to be twenty pages long with no mistakes and had to follow specific formatting rules. He spent an entire weekend typing the paper on a typewriter. I held the paper to the light and it had so much white out, it looked like a cloudy sky, Wade said laughing. He spent the next weekend retyping the paper, but it was still plagued with mistakes. Wade asked the humanities administrative assistant, Mikel Fields, if she could type the paper on her computer. When she had finished typing the paper, Wade was devastated to see the margins on the paper were three-quarters of an inch at the bottom instead of the required one-inch margin. Wade explained the problem to Fields and was astounded as he watched her simply change the margins and reprint his paper. I knew immediately I had to know more about computers," Wade said.

Wade found an abandoned computer and he took it back to his office. The computer had two 5 1/4 floppy drives (one for storage and one for software). Wades curiosity for computers was piqued, and his journey to the world of distance learning began.

Over the next several years, while teaching a full English class load on campus and off campus at Ballard, Graves, and Marshall County high schools, Wade taught himself various computer skills and programs. From word processing to online learning, Wade is completely self-taught. That learning approach has a lot of drawbacks, and I definitely wouldnt recommend it, Wade said with a grin.

In 1988, Wade began providing computer-assisted instruction. The Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) allowed students to go to the computer lab to write papers, use spell check, and explore types and sizes of fonts. Wade took note of the obvious benefit of using computers as teaching and learning tools. In the fall of 1990, Wade configured the acquired computer in his office with a bulletin board program that allowed students in his English 101 class to access coursework from home with a computer and a modem. Four students in a Wades campus English class with advanced computer skills helped him develop the unique program - the first of its kind in the state of Kentucky.

The computer-by-modem English course was officially added to the college offerings in January 1991; twelve students registered for the class. Wade built on the success of that first class, and the community college offered two English courses by modem that fall. Computer-by-modem courses continued to grow by offering seven distance-learning courses. By 1996, when PCC joined the Internet, nearly 400 students were taking online courses.

Three presidents later, Paducah Community College consolidated with West Kentucky Technical College to become West Kentucky Community and Technical College, and Wade has become a leader in distance-learning technology, having developed a successful online program at the college.

Online learning is a constantly changing and experimental process and requires a great deal of support from the college administration. The support I have received from this college is amazing, said Wade. Dr. Barbara Veazey, WKCTC president and Sherry Anderson, WKCTC vice president of learning initiatives, are a constant source of support and encouragement for the colleges online program. Dr. Len OHara, former PCC president and Dr. James Hennessey, former PCC dean of academics, were also instrumental in helping to build the program.

Wade credits Dr. Hennessey with being the first at the college to recognize the important relationship between student need and online learning in 1991.

This fall, more than 100 courses are offered online at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, with more than 80 faculty members teaching online, with over 10,000 students taking online courses. These students are from seven states from as far east as New Jersey and as far west as California and several states in between. Students from several countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, Hong Kong, and Germany have attended WKCTC through its online program.

A large population of people must have online classes available to them to attend college, noted Wade. The WKCTC distance learning team will continue to work with the ever-changing online technology to meet that need.

Today, in addition to Wade, the colleges distance learning team consists of Sandra Tucker, director of distance education; Connie Heflin, director of online learning; Rebecca Jones, administrative assistant; Faith Crim, director of the teaching and learning center; and Ryan Payne, coordinator of the testing center.

He added that most recent high school graduates have never known life without advanced technology. He said he and his team will continue to learn and adjust to the new ways of teaching and learning.

Bill Wade was the pioneer when he started teaching online and built the program from one or two classes to what we have today, said WKCTC President Barbara Veazey. Like many visionaries or leaders, Bill faced challenges. Critics thought online courses did not have quality and students needed to be in an actual classroom setting. Bill never wavered and his perseverance has resulted in thousands being able to access a quality education in a time frame that suits individual circumstances.