Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Early Long-Distance Learning Fails

A story on September 2, 1956 tells about the failure of an early long-distance learning experiment. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s educational television station, WQED – which would later be the home of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood – joined with local boards of educations to experiment with teaching French, reading, and arithmetic via television.

Dr. Edith Kern was administering a French examination from WQED’s studio to 650 fifth-grade pupils located in sixteen different schools in western Pennsylvania when she reached question number 38 on the 44 question test. Suddenly, all of the TV screens went blank. It wouldn’t be until Dr. Kern reached question number 41 that she would reappear on the screen.

As you know, teachers are incredibly mean and everything is always the student’s fault. So, she marked those missing questions wrong on every student’s paper. No, that’s not really what happened. Those 3 missing questions were skipped when the exams are graded.

The loss of signal during the exam was blamed on a power company line failure.

1963 photograph of the teaching television studio, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania. Library of Congress image.
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