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The second principal of the Scarborough campus, A. F. Wynne Plumptre, in UTSC's TV production studio.
Photo by Robert Lansdale Photography from the University of Toronto Archives

Lights! Action! Learning!

UTSC was ahead of its time in pioneering lectures-through technology

February 10, 1972: The original building on U of T’s Scarborough campus boasted a 560-square-metre television studio, designed to beam lectures out to 50 classrooms. With more than $1 million of up-to-the-minute equipment, the studio and its closed-circuit system was one of the 1960s’ most ambitious educational experiments.

All that high-tech wizardry was intended to stretch a scarcity of senior faculty across the growing number of baby boomer students. When full enrolment was reached, planners hoped, televised teaching would allow faculty to film lectures for up to half of the general courses, reducing instructional costs by 30 per cent.

The timing seemed right: 92 per cent of Canadian homes had TV sets by 1965. Yet some students balked at watching lengthy televised lectures, and many faculty weren’t comfortable with the process. This unease – along with lower-than-expected economic benefits – ended the revolutionary teaching-by-television experiment.

Today, new technologies are faring far better. About 40 courses each term can currently be accessed online, says UTSC psychology professor Steve Joordens, who works to create new learning tools. Web options offer his 1,900 students easy flexibility with when, where and how they learn – and creating the content is less intrusive and intimidating for the faculty. “Professors just walk into the class and do what they do,” he says. Captured on video as they happen, lectures are up on the web “almost immediately.” No studio required.

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