Eighteen California community colleges, led by Armen Sarafian, then president of Pasadena City College, and Les Wilbur, chair of Higher Education at USC, respond to an offer from KABC to assist a group of cooperating southern California colleges in producing and broadcasting college credit television courses. Two courses are offered in the fall of 1970: Effective Living, enrollment 380, and Introduction to Psychology, enrollment 309. By the summer of 1976, more than 150,000 students have enrolled in 22 different courses, although never more than two courses are offered in any given term. Courses such as Yoga with Madeline and Connie’s Clothing Corner are outnumbered by transferable, general education courses in art history, music, astronomy, child development, and history.
The Consortium…Circa 1976
The organization is now seven years old and organized as a California Joint Powers Authority (the Southern California Consortium for Community College Television). The legal and fiscal agency of the Consortium continues to be the Office of the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools in Downey. At this time distance learning series are similar to the early Sunrise Semester. Production continues to be supported by KABC, but that generosity fades as networks begin to discover the income potential of early morning broadcast slots.
With the support of a strong, forward-thinking Board of Directors, the Consortium establishes a non-profit corporation (the Corporation for Community College Television) to be its fiscal, legal agent. Such a structure is rare for its time… a fact that’s equally true today. Marketing and distribution of course materials extends nationwide in partnership with the newly-established PBS Adult Learning Service, bringing income into the organization that allows the Corporation to produce at a greater level of sophistication and academic quality.
At One Dupont Circle, an Instructional Telecommunications Consortium (lTC) forms, with the Consortium as a charter member and leader. And in 1982, under the auspices of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Walter Annenberg establishes a fund to support the production of distance learning programming (The Annenberg/CPB Project). In the first round of funding the Corporation is awarded two of seven grants … for the creation of The New Literacy: An Introduction to Computers and The Mechanical Universe, to be co-developed with the California Institute of Technology.
In 1991 the Corporation, now INTELECOM Intelligent Telecommunications, heads a major grant project on behalf of colleges that were part of the lTC to conduct a nationwide distance learning needs assessment. A number of courses are ultimately identified and supported by The Annenberg/CPB Project which INTELECOM develops: a geology course (Earth Revealed) and a literature course (Literary Visions). Eventually, a third course in philosophy (The Examined Life) is self-funded and produced in collaboration with education agencies from the Netherlands and Sweden.
The Consortium is now 48 California community colleges strong when INTELECOM embarks on two multi-year collaborations. INTELECOM is asked by Sandia and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories to head a project that results in the development of five textbooks and 28 videos called Preserving the Legacy…a two-year curriculum to train environmental technicians. At the same time, INTELECOM embarks on a seminal eight-year effort to develop television-based, distance learning curricula in the areas of English as a Second Language, Citizenship and Civic Education, and Family and Basic Skills Literacy. This $16.4 million effort, which includes the ESL series Crossroads Cafe, involves the U.S. Department of Education, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the United States Information Agency, and nine state education agencies, and makes significant inroads in addressing impacted ESL classes and combating the blot of illiteracy in the United States.
Fast Forward to a New Century
Telecourses ushered in distance learning but online courses are now the preferred mode of distance instruction. In response to this change, INTELECOM staff and Board members, in April 2006, develop plans for a next generation online product. It is envisioned that learning objects – initially streaming video clips and eventually more sophisticated interactive content – will be digitally delivered as quality supplements to teaching and learning. Technology partners are identified, a beta version of a digital repository is developed and tested, and in January, 2008, the INTELECOM Online Resources Network makes its national debut.
The repository is well received. During this same period, use of digital educational resources increases dramatically, driven by mobile devices, new approaches to teaching, and the popularity of media websites such as YouTube. INTELECOM content is in high demand and licensing opportunities are actively pursued with publishers and educational technology start-ups. Agreements are soon reached with EBSCO Publishing, ProQuest, Credo Reference, Cengage, SAGE Publishing, Kanopy, Mackin VIA, OverDrive, and others. And a pilot program is launched on the Udemy learning platform to publish low-cost online courses keyed to OER textbooks from OpenStax College.
New Opportunities, New Challenges
With community college initiatives in California underway to better address online and adult education, career and technical education, workforce and related basic skills, and professional development, a newly-renamed Intelecom Learning, again with the support of its Board, makes the decision to expand its development focus: to develop courseware and other educational technology-mediated resources that support student success and institutional effectiveness.
This is the history that the Consortium and its service agency, Intelecom Learning, are currently writing…as well as an opportunity, and challenge, for the leadership of the organization going forward.