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Jun 20 2011

Radio College 101

Contributed by Shaun Bennett
NC State University, Continuing Education, Gaston Technical Institute
Here at North Carolina State University students have the option
of taking classes online, though distance education courses. Students never need to step foot in the classroom, but instead can complete all coursework with a computer and an Internet connection. Distance education is no longer considered unusual, but did you know that the Technician predicted distance education as early as 1925?

In the January 9th, 1925 edition of the Technician, a writer noted that in the future students would no longer need to physically attend classes, but instead would simply turn on their radio and listen to the professor’s lecture! The Technician wrote, “When John or Mary wish to go to college, in 1930, the only expense entailed with be the purchase of a radio set: if they wish to change colleges, that can be accomplished by changing the wave length.” This was no doubt a highly attractive image to many students, and the paper further noted that colleges such as Kansas State and Mercer University were already offering classes via radio.

The trend had begun several years earlier in 1922 when the Los Angeles Times reported that Tufts College, in Medford, Massachusetts, would begin offering a fully “wireless college, with a faculty made up of Tufts professors”. By 1925 the New York Times had published a story on colleges by radio, focusing on Kansas State and the University of Pittsburgh. The University of Pittsburgh transmitted whole lecture series, such as, “Some High Lights of Modern Physics” and “Criminology”. Kansas State took radio college a step further offering course credit for radio classes. The courses varied widely, from English literature to economics to educational sociology. The students would then study at home, and be regularly tested by county superintendents. While the link between the college by radio and online distance education is easy to see, another modern connection is also clear: that of the current homeschoolers, who’s children learn at home and are tested by the county schools each year.

Later, in 1928 ,the New York Times again reported on radio colleges, this time under the urging of the New York Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, Walter Damrosch. Damrosch gave a musical lecture to a crowd of three hundred members of the Schoolmasters Association of New York and Vicinity, in an attempt to show the potential of education through radio. The president of the National Broadcasting Company was also at the event, Mr. M. H. Aylseworth. But six years after the Tufts College broadcasts, the musical lecture was still considered highly experimental. As late as 1936, the Ohio State University experimented with radio broadcasts of some college courses, but did not offer college credits through the radio. Instead they offered them as free educational radio broadcasts for the public. By 1939 the change was becoming clear: the University of Texas installed a new radio station for the purpose of broadcasting educational programs throughout the southwestern United States. The purpose of the programs was not college credit, but instead a general public education for all ages and levels of education.

Although radio colleges never caught on as expected, it easy to see that they are a precursor to the online distance education which so many students use today.

Sources: Technician (9 January 1925) Los Angeles Times (26 March 1922) New York Times (4 October, 1925, 22 January 1928, 12 April 1936, 1 October 1939)