The term “instructional television” (ITV) is multidimensional, with definitions varying widely, depending on context, time period examined, and other factors. The term is frequently related or used interchangeably with other terms on this website, including Classroom Instructional Technology, Distance Education, and Educational Media, among others. At the most basic level, ITV refers to the use of the medium of television to deliver instructional content to one or more viewers, but the multiple interpretations of the term are tied directly to delivery/reception variables, content variables, and viewer variables.
ITV has existed as long as the medium of television itself, since some of the earliest experimental demonstrations of the medium in both Great Britain and the United States were for the purpose of instruction. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US authorized noncommercial educational television in 1952, a number of the licenses subsequently awarded were assigned to boards of education, school districts, and other instructional agencies that developed the medium of television for direct formal instruction in the classroom setting. Even community licensees that were generally referred to as “educational television stations” devoted their daytime schedules to delivering “in-school services,” another term for ITV programming.
ITV programs ranged from hour-long courses that ran daily for an entire semester to a single instructional program that was broadcast in conjunction with the commemoration of an historical event or as an instructional supplement to a current happening, such as the inauguration of a president. In some situations the utilization of ITV was almost incidental to the regular, teacher-delivered classroom curriculum, whereas in other situations ITV played a far more dominant role. For example, the use of ITV in American Samoa, South Africa, and Bogotá, Colombia, led to a major restructuring of the entire public school curriculum. The impact of ITV as a contributor to formal instruction has been felt from kindergarten through high school and college to adult education. ITV has been credited with teaching youngsters how to cope with life-threatening illnesses while bedridden in hospitals, with helping prison inmates earn their high-school diplomas, and with teaching immigrants to learn English and prepare for their citizenship examination.
While some ITV programming has been broadcast over the airwaves, much of the ITV coursework on college and university campuses utilizes a “closed circuit” delivery system, in which a number of television channels are fed from a central control room or “head end” to multiple classrooms through the use of coaxial cable or fiber optics. One well-known ITV project in the mid-western US during the 1960s – Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction – actually used airplanes to transmit courses to more than 2,000 elementary and secondary schools over a six-state area. Video tapes of ITV programs have been distributed internationally by such organizations as the Great Plains National Instructional Television Library. Today, ITV programs may reach the viewer via the Internet, world wide web, DVD, or video cassette, as well as by closed circuit, instructional television fixed service (ITFS), broadcast, or satellite transmission. Viewing of so-called “telecourses” or other ITV programming may take place in a regular classroom, in a dormitory room, at home, or under a tree in a public park via a wireless laptop computer.
ITV in one form or another is an important part of the curricular offerings of virtually every modern school, college, and university in the world today. Research established early on that television was an effective means of delivering information to students, and that when content was properly designed, viewers could learn as much from ITV as from a classroom teacher. The classroom of the twenty-first century is rich in media resources, regardless of the grade level or subject area. The fundamental production principles developed by ITV pioneers continue to be utilized today, as visual and auditory content or “videos” pervade the seemingly countless delivery and reception platforms of our mediated instructional environment.
- Bryant, J., & Anderson, D. R. (eds.) (1983). Children’s understanding of television: Research on attention and comprehension. New York: Academic Press.
- Center for Children and Technology (2004). Television goes to school: The impact of video on student learning in formal education. Washington, DC: Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
- Chu, G., & Schramm, W. (1967). Learning from television: What the research says. Washington, DC: National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
- Ely, D. P. (ed.) (1996). Classic writings in instructional technology. New York: Libraries Unlimited.
- Howe, M. J. A. (ed.) (1983). Learning from television: Psychological and educational research. London: Academic Press.
- Schramm, W. (ed.) (1972). Quality in instructional television. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.
- Zigerell, J. (1991). The uses of television in American higher education. New York: Praeger.
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