History of Telecourses


American Experience

Distance education is often viewed as a recent development when in fact, correspondence courses were established in the 1870s. By 1882, the University of Chicago had established a home study division. In 1915 the National University Extension Association established a Correspondence Study Division. By 1923 over ten percent of all broadcast radio stations were owned by educational institutions which delivered educational programming. In 1926, the National Home Study Council was established. Over 55 million students have studied at home.

In 1934, Congress established the Federal Communications Commission. The Association of College and University Broadcasting Stations and other associations were organized at that time and pushed to keep frequencies open for educational uses. During the 1940s and 1950s, these same groups applied for television station licenses.

In 1947, the Truman Commission articulated a strong position on universal education; this action was followed by even stronger pronouncements by the Eisenhower Commission. In 1952 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigned frequencies to establish public broadcasting, one of the objectives was the provision for instructional television.

Efforts to produce educational materials for television broadcast are almost as old as the medium, but early efforts bear little resemblance to the soundly designed, sophisticated telecourses available to today's students. In the 1950s the first educational television programs were created for open broadcast. In 1951, the City Colleges of Chicago pioneered the first large-scale instructional television programs for credit by organizing an institution through which students could obtain a degree by taking only television courses. It has served over 200,000 students. The soldiers returning from World War II wanted to utilize their educational benefits with distance education programs, but the Veterans Administration prevented this arguing that off-campus programs would be abused. Disabled veterans were able to attend classes via telecommunications courses when their counselors approved it.

WOI-TV at Iowa State University went on the air in 1950. It was the world's first non-experimental, educationally owned television station. Following an early and fairly enthusiastic acceptance of educational television in the early 1950s, more producers entered the field and used a variety of methods to teach via television. As there were more failures than successes, disenchantment followed in the 1960s as it became apparent that television could not solve all of education's problems. Early programs tended to use the medium as an electronic blackboard for elementary and secondary teachers, and televised lectures at the college level. Educators regarded television as an extension of the classroom, not as a medium with its own enormous advantages and capacities and this is largely, still the case today. The capacities and strengths of the medium were not recognized for a long time and early efforts to teach by television were largely disappointing. Yet the telecourse evolved from these blackboard and talking-head approaches as well as from the older independent study models long familiar to higher education, and recognition of television's unique potential came with this evolution.

Many have recognized and criticized the failure of educators to use the medium to its best advantage, noting that taking pictures of a talking head or what is done in a regular classroom and televising it was not using television for the unique medium that it is. Television must involve careful design, scripting, and production that provide a high quality that could never be replicated in a regular classroom presentation.

Use of the community cable television (CCTV) facility to prepare telecourses was one of television's potentials. A CCTV system enabled an institution to tailor its telecourse to fit the local needs. Videotape and kinescope made packaging and storing educational programs possible. The University of Denver reported programming telecourses in accounting and zoology. At Iowa State University, sixteen classrooms in a new building were equipped with two receivers each to receive taped programs. The University of Akron (Ohio) used CCTV to telecast seven required courses and students had no alternative as CCTV was the only way the courses could be taken. In 1960, the University of Missouri presented 27 taped television courses; 19 were presented on the University CCTV channel and the others were split between CCTV and broadcast stations including four on St. Louis' PBS station KETC-TV. Institutions continued to perceive television as a partial solution to burgeoning enrollments and instructor shortages.

In 1963, Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) was created by the FCC which mandated that the microwave spectrum channels be used for educational purposes. The first university to apply for licensing was the California State University (CSU) System.

During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a renewed acceptance of educational television based on an understanding of the medium's potential, strengths and limitations, and an increasing sophistication in the development of a system of learning elements which were integrated to reinforce mutually the learning experience. In the 1970s several new United States organizations began to produce and offer telecourses. In 1970 the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting and the Southern California Consortium for Community College Television produced and offered telecourses regionally and nationally. The Consortium makes college credit telecourses available to its member colleges and usually has three or more new telecourses in development. In 1972, three community college districts began producing and offering telecourses; Miami-Dade Community College District in Florida, Coast Community College District in Costa Mesa, CA, and Dallas County Community College District.

Since the early 1970s numerous organizations have produced and offered telecourses. Chief among these was the now defunct University of Mid-America, a consortium that consisted of nine state universities. Telecourses produced by this group are now available through the Great Plains Network (GPN).

The rush of institutions and their students to take advantage of instructional television began suddenly toward the end of the 1970s and accelerated rapidly thereafter (Hewitt, 1982). Purdy(1980) and Grossman (1982) refer to the revolutionary nature of the swift increase and the extent to which telecourses were used in the 1980s. Likely catalysts for this increase were the refinement and sophistication of telecourses and the technological means to deliver them (Munshi, 1980). These concurrent events have had strong impact, spawning several other developments of national significance. These include: establishment of the PBS Adult Learning Service - a public programming service which is devoted to national delivery of educational programs; the Annenberg/CPB Project, a $150 million fund to encourage the development of innovative television and radio courses; establishment of the National University Consortium and the University of Mid-America; organization of large and small consortia representing hundreds of institutions which share production and licensing costs; and the emergence of several multi-campus community colleges as leaders in the production and use of telecourses.

Since the mid-1970s, immense improvement has been made in telecourses through application of sound principles of academic design and the participation of professionals in the fields of television, writing, editing, and publishing. Both the concept of the telecourse and the use of telecourses are still changing and evolving, and it would be incorrect to suggest that all the problems of this form of education have been solved. There is still room for improvement in the quality of telecourses.

When ordinary broadcast delivery or closed-circuit channel is not possible, telecourses are being relayed by cable, satellite, telephone, videotape, and videodisc to hundreds of adult learners who probably never could - or would - attend courses offered on campus. The use of television in higher education today is widespread and growing. Establishment of the Annenberg/CPB Project continues to stimulate the production of superior courseware and the growing number of consortia, task forces, and commissions will encourage and expand the use and production of telecourses.

The Public Broadcasting Service has identified adult learning as one of its primary objectives. Colleges, universities and public broadcasting stations are working together to make education available to individuals who would not have this opportunity without the intervention of telecommunications. As cable becomes more available and new technologies offer additional avenues, more opportunities will become possible.

Problems continue to beset distance education programs but despite this, growth continues. Accrediting agencies are still dealing with how to accredit courses that cross state lines as well as accrediting agency borders. High front end costs for equipment and production discourage many entrants as their funding shrivels, but educators continue to find imaginative new solutions such as wireless cable, computer conferencing, audiographics, and audioconferencing to augment the more expensive television programming. Unfortunately, educators continue to try to capture the essence of the traditional classroom in telecommunications classrooms, but are steadily moving toward a new model which is a paradigm shift brought on by the use of electronically mediated courses and a new understanding of learning and learning styles. This new learner centered model includes components which utilize the concepts of instructor facilitation, student learning styles, interaction, collaborative and self-directed learning, electronic access to resources, hands-on experiential learning, authentic learning or problem based learning which is based on reality, authentic assessment, and a mix of media. Ultimately, when a national infrastructure is in place, the mix of media will be delivered as multimedia on a telecomputer.

British Experience

A major advance in instructional television and telecourses was made by the establishment in 1969 of the British-Open University. It was designed to offer students non-traditional opportunities for education and placed particular emphasis on instruction by television. Probably no institution has had such a dramatic impact on the use of television in higher education as has the Open University of Great Britain. Perry (1977) writes that the Open University evolved from the convergence of three major educational trends: adult education, educational broadcasting, and the spread of educational egalitarianism. In the United States, the success of the Open University rekindled interest in the use of educational television (Hewitt, 1982).

The Open University enrolled its first students in 1971 and continues to enroll about 40,000 students each year, many of whom earn regular degrees. Some telecourses produced by the Open University are used by American institutions. Several dozen distance learning institutions now exist in many countries around the world.

The Open University sees satellites as an important development in the next few years to make telecourses available and to extend its work with industry and commerce in the field of professional and technological training.

The end point of what can be done when television is combined with other media for education has not been reached; rather, this is probably just the beginning of a revolution in education which will involve many forms of telecommunications.

Where Are We Now?

As has occurred with many introductions of media, the once new have been replaced at the front of the line with newer mediated programs. Yet the old ones are holding their own and continue to have a lively usage.

New telecourses are still being produced and funding for their production continues from PBS and other known organizations.

Satellites are still being heavily used, but the costs for time have led educators to collective purchase of large blocks of satellite time. When one satellite used heavily by educators was apparently rendered useless by solar flares, no satellite owner provided discounts so that education could continue via satellite. Instead, the market responded by increasing costs. This led many educators to rethink the use of satellite. As a result of the price increases, many could not afford the original hours they had purchased, and moved content to Internet Web pages with great success.

Courses delivered via the Internet are now quite common as Internet access has become easy and inexpensive for adult learners. While many courses are available on the Internet for K-12 learners, access is still a consideration. Inventive teachers have learned how to cull the material they want for students and make it available to them through classroom display or use in a computer laboratory. Many computer labs are now closed in favor of having computers available with Internet access in the classroom. This has allowed many teachers to fluidly integrate technology into the classroom and access the rich resources of information as students have questions. This model provides a new way for students to think about getting information and using it. No longer is the information located in a library that they can access infrequently. Now it resides with them in the classroom and the student has become a reference librarian with search and retrieval skills.

We are steadily moving toward a mediated model of learning that incompasses many types of media. It has been called distributed learning and it depends on a new model where textbooks may no longer printed and then distributed, but where information is distributed and then printed.

A class of computers called net computers has been teasing educators because of $500 price tag. The price is so low that it makes possible a true block grant --where one is able to give a computer to the children who live on a block so that they can learn and collaborate regardless of age group. The net computers are so inexpensive that many families may be able to buy them instead of Ninentendo games. The basic idea of the net computer is that the primary computing structure resides on the net and the computer contains only the components required to connect with and use the Internet. The concept is intriguing.

from "A Technical Guide to Teleconferencing and Distance Learning," 3rd edition