Archive for November 8th, 2010

Education using television

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The BBC produced adult education television and radio programmes prior to the creation of the OU and it also produced written materials to accompany many of these programmes.  One series, aimed at farmers, was broadcast in 1968. The Agricultural Producer at the BBC explained that each programme was clearly structured, sometimes the same film was shown twice in order to explain points but that every attempt was made not to patronize. (see Educational Television International, 2, ,2, June 1968, pp122-126. The booklet, pictured, was free on request and for those farmers who gathered to watch together there were also Tutor Notes which provided both additional background material and suggested topics for discussion.


The advertisement for a commercial television company (‘Look I’m five teachers’) dates from January 1969 and illustrates one of the cases made for the use of television for educational purposes.

This medium had long been conceptualised as of significance (in 1960 William Benton, one of those who played an important part in the OU’s foundation) said that it ‘could be the greatest force ever known to deepen our understanding and broaden our knowledge’ (W Benton, Television – a prescription: a national citizens’ advisory board, Vital speeches of the day, 26, 18, pp. 571-574, (p 572).

Certainly television helped secure the OU as part of the popular heritage of the UK. Much of the popular affection for the OU might well be due to the use of television for its broadcasts during a period when there were few channels available to UK residents. When Sheila Grant studied in the popular soap Brookside it was with the OU (and yes she was accused of having an affair with her tutor) and when in Life on Mars the central character receives comforting but complicated messages from across time and space, it was via late-night 1970s Open University programmes.

Antecedents on the wireless

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The BBC had a long history of producing discussion materials to accompany educational talks on the radio. This experience of combining material presented in one medium with that presented in another was of value when the university of the air was being designed. Thanks to Allan Jones and the BBC Archives for this image.

Experimentation by correspondence

Monday, November 8th, 2010


The notion of a correspondence course was transformed when the OU started to send out home experiment kits and computers by post. 

This is HEKTOR, a ‘home computer’ dating from 1982. It could be plugged into a TV which became its monitor and plugged into a cassette recorder for storage. Initially students were encouraged to write programs in BASIC but later it was used for other purposes, including on a control engineering course.