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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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In the "tuned in" sixties, what post-secondary school was planned as a TV college?

Answer The University of Toronto at Scarborough was wired for extensive TV instruction. The plan failed but the infrastructure was perfect for the next new wave - computers.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

One distinctive feature of Scarborough College was the plan to make widespread use of television for teaching purposes. This was not an afterthought but was built into the design of the college.

The use of television, it was thought, would save money and help ease the problem of finding enough teaching faculty.

"Scarborough was planned as a TV college," the sociologist John Lee has written, "in a way which at that time was original in North America." Carl Williams had promoted the use of television in the extension program, and the first dean at Scarborough, the zoologist William Beckel, had successfully used the medium in his own teaching. Half the classes were to be taught using videotaped lectures. Expensive production facilities were incorporated into the building. The use of television, it was thought, would save money and help ease the problem of finding enough staff members to teach the courses.

UTSC campus, 1966
Aerial view of University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1966

The television experiment failed, however. Students - particularly students in the second half of the 1960s - were not willing to accept either the lack of interaction with lecturers or what in most cases were second-rate productions compared to what they were seeing on television at home.

Wynne Plumptre
Scarborough Principal Wynne Plumptre (1972)

"The first outbreak on the Berkeley campus," Principal Wynne Plumptre noted in retrospect, "took place while the Scarborough TV centre was being constructed; and the whole thrust of the new educational objectives and desires ran contrary to the concept of mechanized, standardized instruction."

The use of TV did not save money but paved the way for the installation of electronic classrooms.

Moreover, the use of TV did not save money. It might have, if the college had had the 5,000 students plan for, but there were fewer than 2,000 in 1970, and the cost of production was higher than the savings on live lecturers. The production facilities were ultimately turned over to other uses. Fortunately, however, the conduits buried in the concrete that carried the television cables were perfect for the cables for the computers now widely used in the classrooms and other rooms at Scarborough.

Instead of television teaching, Friedland goes on to write, Scarborough College (now the University of Toronto at Scarborough) would distinguish itself in another way -- the development of co-op programs, in public administration, international development studies, and arts administration, and more recently in computer and environmental science. To cope with the coming increases in enrolment demand due to the double cohort, the University is planning to increase the enrolment at Scarborough, and the University of Toronto at Mississauga, by at least 50 per cent over the next few years.

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