From Telephone Lines to Wi-Fi: The Beginnings of Remote Learning at DePaul

Edward Fiori, Jr. at home
Edward Fiori, Jr., getting his DePaul education remotely in his East Chicago bedroom, 1958.

Long before DePaul shifted classes online this quarter due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university was leading the way in remote instruction. In 1958, DePaul awarded one of the nation’s first “online” degrees to Edward J. Fiori, Jr., a student who attended all of his classes remotely. Fiori was an undergraduate student in DePaul’s College of Commerce who attended classes from his family’s home in East Chicago, Indiana. At the time it was another viral outbreak—a polio epidemic—that was the impetus for Fiori’s remote education, after he contracted the disease at the age of twelve and was left paralyzed from the waist down.

The telephone line that allowed Fiori to receive his education remotely in the 1950s was certainly different than the Wi-Fi enabled devices we use now. Students taking classes online today, however, might relate to some of the advantages of remote learning that Fiori identified. After successfully completing a regular course load with a bedroom to classroom setup, Fiori received his Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce in person, becoming only the third person in the United States to earn an undergraduate degree entirely from home.

Fiori’s story is unique as one of the earlier examples of remote learning in the country and at DePaul. But it also demonstrates the university’s collective and long-standing commitment to serving students and prioritizing learning and instruction, whether on campus or online.

Classroom with telephone speaker
DePaul classroom equipped with the portable speaker unit, with Fiori on the other line listening to a philosophy lecture, 1956.

You can read a little more about Edward J. Fiori, Jr. and the technology that supported this early example of remote learning in this month’s “Into the Archives,” a regular column in DePaul University Newsline that features stories from the history of the university researched with the collections and written by the staff in Special Collections and Archives.

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