The TV show of the 50’s that laid the foundations for today’s distance education

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THE Distance learning For about a year now, it has been a new reality around the world, with schools of all levels trying to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 by switching to online platforms.

Sixty-four years ago, no one could have imagined that the new TV show “Sunrise Semester”, which premiered on the WCBS-TV network in September 1957, would somehow be a kind of forerunner of this new reality we are experiencing in 2021.

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The American, educational TV series screened from September 1957 to October 1982, and was created by CBS Television Film Sales in collaboration with the New York School of Fine Arts and Sciences.

What the TV show actually did was host lecturers in the production company’s studio, who presented school lessons covering a wide range of academic subjects. The specific courses could be attended by anyone who paid the respective tuition fees at the school.

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The name of the program (sunrise) is due to its screening time between 6.30-7.00 am, while one of the two courses of each semester was shown every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the second every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday .

Initially, the idea of ​​a program asking its viewers to wake up so early in the morning to attend lectures was met with skepticism, with critics questioning whether it would attract viewers.

But the “Sunrise Semester” defied expectations, attracting 74,000 viewers and 177 registered students only in the first week of its screening. By the end of the first semester, a total of 120,000 Americans were watching Professor Floyd Zulli teach the opening lesson of the show, an introductory class on comparative literature.

In fact, according to Smithsonian Magazine, “The Red and the Black,” a French novel from the 1830s and the first book on the course reading list, reportedly sold out in almost every bookstore within a mile of about 50 miles from New York, pushing Random House to reprint.

In the mid-1970s, 85 CBS stations aired the program, with the New York School of Fine Arts and Sciences believing there were up to one million audience. The program was well-received by the public, and although CBS did not allow advertising during it, the time before and after “Sunrise Semester” was highly sought after by advertisers.

The “Sunrise Semester” has been described as “a kind of primitive form open to the general public online course (MOOC)” and in the two years since its launch it has won five Emmy Awards.

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