Ray Schroeder, A Man Who Has Changed Your Life

Ray Schroeder speaks with a UIS online student and family at the Graduation Brunch for online students at Commencement in 2016.
Ray Schroeder speaks with a UIS online student and family at the Graduation Brunch for online students at Commencement in 2016.

Meet Ray Schroeder, A Leader in Online Education

If you are a UIS online student or alum, Ray Schroeder has changed your life.

Ray came to UIS (then Sangamon State University) in 1977 as a communication professor. During the next decades, he saw in technology a chance to improve access and opportunities for students like you. Today he is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at UIS and a nationally recognized leader in “online done right.”

So even though you may not recognize his name, he has had a huge impact on your online education.

Amazing record of innovation

Ray’s earliest work at UIS (then Sangamon State) was in television, but he soon began seeing much wider uses of technology in education, especially through computers. You can see a record below of some of the dramatic advances in information that have occurred during the last decades along with the innovations Ray introduced at UIS.

In 1997, the year Ray became Director of the new Office of Technology Enhanced Learning, UIS online became real. UIS offered only one online course during this first year. The next year, four courses were added. The next year, 17 courses were taught online, along with one entire program—Management Information Systems.

Last year, 80% of UIS students (including those on campus) took at least one online course and 2,253 students or 39.2% took only online courses. UIS offers 12 complete online undergraduate degree programs, 13 online graduate programs and many certification programs.

And how far does UIS online go? Currently, UIS online students live in 48 states and 14 countries.

During the years since UIS online became fact, Ray has become a leader in the field, winning many awards for his contributions to online education. (UIS has also won many awards as a university under Ray’s leadership.) In 2016, he was named to the U.S. Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame. He is also known for his two widely followed blogs (with millions of hits)—the Online Learning Update and Educational Technology, both of which he has written since 2001.

Unwavering focus on students

Accolades and honors aside, Ray’s purpose in all that he has done at UIS has always been the same: opportunities for students. In 2016, upon receiving the Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award, he said:

“It’s about all of us working together to provide high-quality online education. It’s about opening opportunities to students all around the world. Let us keep in mind that it is truly all about the student.”

At a recent conference at Rutgers, Ray was introduced as a national treasure by Robert Hansen, CEO of the University Professional & Continuing Education Association:

 “There’s nobody in this country that so tirelessly advocates for the value and the meaning of online learning and particularly in expanding access to non-traditional students.”

From the beginning, Ray has paid close attention to what students themselves say they need, accepting that online students often have different goals than students who come as traditional students to a college campus.

At the same time, Ray has relied on evidence-based findings to design the online programs at UIS so that he could make sure that students have what they need to achieve those goals most effectively.

The online education that students need the most

In 2012, the New York Times quoted Ray as saying that three things matter most in online education—and he has made sure that UIS meets all the criteria:

Quality of material covered

Online classes at UIS have always reflected the classes that face-to-face students experience:

  • The same professors, highly qualified in their disciplines, teach online and on ground.
  • Professors design their own syllabi, requirements and evaluation for both online and on ground classes (as opposed to programs where schools purchase a course syllabus and materials and insist teachers follow it).
  • Professors receive pro-active development and support on how best to teach online, as well as comprehensive updates on technology.
  • The same department leadership that oversees the quality of face-to-face classes also oversees online classes.

All these mean that your online classes have the same academic value as on ground classes, and that your transcript indicates the same degree.

Engagement with the teacher

Ray understood from the beginning that the connection between professor and student did not—and should not—go away just because instruction occurs online. To encourage faculty to engage with students, at UIS:

  • Most online classes are capped at 25 so that students and faculty can develop personal relationships over the semester.
  • Many professors also schedule regular electronic office hours.

Of his own teaching, Ray has said, “In a class with 25 students, my discussion boards commonly include more than 2,000 postings by the end of the term.” Many teachers follow Ray’s example.

Interaction among students:

  • Small classes contribute to students getting to know each other, as do projects and discussion boards.
  • At UIS, online students have the option of joining many student organizations.
  • They can also take part in annual events like the Student Technology, Arts & Research Symposium each spring, career workshops and presentations.

Ray’s leadership contributed to all these important elements of UIS online.

To these, Ray added one more important innovation at UIS—online program coordinators. Considered essential to the delivery and success of online programming at UIS, online coordinators provide support to online students, including student advocacy, problem solving and informal advising. Giving online students a single point of contact improves their experience at UIS.

A new age of human society

In 1984, Ray Schroeder was selected by student vote as the year’s outstanding professor, making him the choice to speak at commencement. During his address, he spoke about the new Information Age, which he said would be as important and pervasive as the Industrial Age that preceded it.

“The promise of the Information Age is power. That power can be used to benefit the few who have the knowledge or the money or the strength to apply it for their own profit without regard to their responsibility to others. It can be used to separate classes. It can be used to subjugate. Or it can be used to advance the cause of all humanity. The choice is yours.”

Ray knew a long time ago what his choice would be, and throughout his career, he has poured his efforts and insights into making education possible and better for UIS online students—and that includes you.

Chart showing Ray Schroeder’s record of innovation

Date Milestones in Information Age Ray Schroeder’s record of innovation
1960 Univ. of Illinois introduces PLATO, first generalized computer-assisted instruction system connecting several thousand graphics terminals to a mainframe. PLATO gave rise to concepts like forums, message boards, email, chat rooms instant messaging, screen sharing and multiplayer games.
1970s Computer scientists figure out how to connect all computers on all networks together.
1976 Personal computer revolution begins; computers become a necessity for schools and universities.
1978 Ray joins three other professors in presenting a workshop on the educational uses of the PLATO system for computer-assisted instruction program;
1979 Ray helps form a national organization at SSU for computer-aided instruction of writing, foreign languages, literature and related area.
1989 Univ. of Phoenix launches its first online program.
1991 World Wide Web introduced by Swiss programmer Tim Berners-Lee
1992 U of I scientists introduce Mosaic (later called Netscape), a user-friendly way to search the Internet; Congress decides Internet can be used for commercial uses. Ray speaks at a national conference on video conferencing—“A training tool for the 90s”
1994 First completely online curriculum introduced by CalCampus Ray provides training to librarians and teachers in central Illinois in how to use the Internet
1995 Ray publishes at article on “Cyberlinking with Students”—“no more telephone tag, no more waiting until offices hours. The students say they really appreciate this kind of access to their teachers.”
1997 Ray becomes Director of the new Office of Technology Enhanced Learning; one online class offered in 1997/98 academic year
1998 Four online classes offered at UIS; UIS begins offering stipends for professors to develop “Internet-enhanced courses”
1999 ` 17 classes offered at UIS; Management Information Systems becomes first UIS program completely online
1999 First online coordinator, Andy Egizi (Liberal Studies), added to staff—to provide student advocacy, problem solving, informal advising and other support. (UIS now has 13 coordinators, last year serving the 1,976 UIS students who took only online courses.)
2001 Ray starts two blogs—Online Learning Updated and Educational Technology—which have now had millions of hits
2003 81% of colleges have at least one online class
2007 An online course is offered by a professor at Utah State University to anyone who wanted to participate. This format is now called a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).
2009 5.5 million students are taking at least one course online
2014 UIS offers its first MOOC; 2,700 people from 70 countries subscribed.
2014 98% of public colleges and universities offer online programs
2016 97% of UIS graduates took at least one online course
2017 From Fall 2016 through Summer 2017, 2,253 UIS students were enrolled as online majors—more than 1/3 of all UIS students


Info from A Brief History of Online Learning, Invention of the  PC, Computers in Education: A Brief History, A Brief Computer History, Invention of the Internet, Plato: Computer-Based Education System