Correspondence Study in the
American University: A Second
Von V. Pittman University of Missouri-Columbia
Distance education is developing in a hurry at the postsecondary level. As its pace of innovation and adoption accelerates, many practitioners and advocates seem anxious to leave its past behind. The faculty, administrators, and instructional developers and designers promoting it are definitely results oriented. To the extent that they have a guiding philosophy, it is pragmatism. This orientation toward the future is both obvious and unremarkable. These educators tend to have little in clination to reflect on the achievements, failures, and meaning of their predecessors' work.
Yet, correspondence study was indeed the first distance learning format employed by postsecondary American institutions, and for generations it was the only one. It has had a limited but significant impact on college teaching. It provided not only an impetus for electronically assisted distance education formats but also an administrative home. At least as important is the fact that correspondence study often provided the funds and expertise that universities tapped in order to attempt to develop innovative—and frequently foolish or ill-conceived— telecommunications schemes.
The historians of education, scholars whose task it is to analyze and illuminate, have devoted little attention to distance education, even though hundreds of thousands of college students have used one or more correspondence courses to further their progress toward graduation. Given its low profile, the still relatively small number of students who have used it, and the extremely small share of university resources expended on it, this lack of interest is understandable, albeit regrettable.
In 1990, an anthology edited by Michael Moore, entitled Contemporary Issues in American Distance Education, surveyed the state of scholarship and practice in distance education. It included an essay I wrote on the historiography of correspondence study (Pittman, 1990). That piece, hereinafter cited as the “CIADE essay, ” demonstrated the lack of reflective historical treatments of collegiate-level correspondence courses by enumerating the extant secondary