Wisconsin School of the Air Lives On

December 30, 2011

To fulfill a requirement for a course on distance learning, doctoral student Megan Murtaugh decided to create a web lesson about the Wisconsin School of the Air.  Designed for use in primary and secondary classrooms, this radio-based education series grew out of the Wisconsin Idea, a philosophy maintaining that all Wisconsin residents should have access to the university’s services. Or as the motto goes, “The boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.”

Fannie Steve hosted an award-winning WSA program for young children. Photo: Wisconsin Public Radio.

WHA broadcast Wisconsin School of the Air in various forms for forty years, between 1931 and 1971. Megan got in touch with me regarding vintage WSA audio she found on Portal Wisconsin. Along with these audio files, the lesson she created includes an audio overview of the WSA; a blog post composed by a former student in a WSA classroom; images; an assessment and more.

Until I listened to Megan’s web lesson, I hadn’t really thought of Wisconsin Public Radio as a pioneer in distance learning. I usually associate that term with big schools offering entire degree programs online. But of course, distance learning encompasses a sweeping range of experiences–from full-on virtual campuses like the University of Phoenix, to the individual courses or portions of courses that you can find on PortalWisconsin.org, to the training webinars I sometimes view from my desktop.

In a way, Wisconsin School of the Air lives on in Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television–both based at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. University of the Air, a descendant of the WSA, still airs Sunday afternoons on WPR. Through programs like University of the Air, University Place (WPT’s virtual lecture hall), and many, many others,  we have access the state’s best thinkers–poets, politicians, scientists and scholars.


By the way, I was curious how Megan Murtaugh, a Florida graduate student, came to select the Wisconsin School of the Air as a project focus. She told me she came across the story of the WSA while researching for another class. She says she was also motivated by her husband Jimmy: “He lived and went to school in Wisconsin for a good portion of his academic career. I thought it would be fun to investigate some of Wisconsin’s history and then see if he knew about it. It turned out this project was an educational experience not only for me but for my entire family, my friends and my peers as well.”

How’s that for above and beyond the Wisconsin Idea?

Link to Megan Murtaugh’s Wisconsin School of the Air web lesson.

–Tammy Kempfert

Little Free Libraries: A Wisconsin Idea

December 6, 2011

Helen Klebesadel's Little Free LibraryEverybody loves the Little Free Library, a grassroots project begun by Wisconsin residents Rick Brooks and Todd Bol to promote literacy and community.

In case you haven’t yet heard of the project, its name says it all: the libraries are boxes, most constructed of wood and Plexiglas, that hold around 20 books. Much like the informal “take a book, leave a book” collections found in workplaces, churches and coffee shops, Little Free Libraries allow you and your neighbors to borrow and share books on the honor system. Volunteers raise the money to build and install them, and then oversee the book collection and maintenance.

Brooks and Bol began the Little Free Libraries movement in Hudson and Madison in 2009, and their operation is spreading rapidly, with libraries in Prairie du Chien, Eau Claire and Algoma, and as far away as Portland, Oregon, and New Orleans, Louisiana. You can find them both indoors and outdoors, at businesses, non-profits or even in your neighbor’s front yard.

Through December, you can visit a special exhibit featuring one-of-a-kind models, painted and decorated by Wisconsin artists. Ten artists donated their talents to create these artful libraries, with sales funding Little Free Library installations in Dane County and throughout the state. Above right is Madison artist Helen Klebesadel‘s library, “It Is Always the Season To Read.”

Find out how you can install a Little Free Library in your neighborhood, or purchase one of the ten utilitarian works of art on exhibit at Story Pottery in Mineral Point, by visiting littlefreelibrary.org.