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September 1998

Beam Me Up TVO

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TVOntario has a history of delivering innovative and exciting educational programs. Now it’s adding multimedia and the Internet to its toolbox, taking Ontario’s educational system where no broadcaster has gone before.

By Helen Coltrinari and André Champagne

The new Ontario Centre for Advanced Technology in Learning, together with TVO and its francophone sister station TFO, could present students and teachers in the 21st century with a new array of "learning technologies."

The new centre will join TVO/TFO applying tech-based learning to the work already being carried out in this area by district school boards and the Ministry of Education and Training.

Classroom teachers across the province have already seen how some of these new technologies can enrich their students’ learning and change teachers’ practice.


VClass, or the Virtual Classroom, was launched as a pilot last spring in 22 Ontario schools. Television, satellite, and two-way audio handsets take students on "field trips" to the Science Centre in Toronto, the National Gallery in Ottawa and bear-watching expeditions in Algonquin Park.

Programs are beamed by satellite from TVO studios to schools. Students discuss what they are watching on a monitor with others linked to VClass around the province. They ask questions of the in-studio teacher, making interaction between teacher and learner the unique and valuable aspect of this project.

Last year, VClass hosted eight courses at various grade levels in mathematics, science, and chemistry. A Shakespeare series was also part of the program. The VClass schedule is set to expand across the curriculum. For example, an OAC chemistry course is offered to schools with insufficient enrolment.


In the realm of learning technologies, Galaxy Classroom is also moving learning technologies forward. Using video, fax and Internet technologies, the Galaxy Classroom makes participation and interaction by students a necessity. A set of activities is expected to be completed before the start of the next program, including messages sent by fax or e-mail to other classrooms and students across the country.

Launched three years ago, Galaxy Classroom has grown steadily. This fall will see the launch of a new Galaxy program, C2 . Grade 6 students join hosts Scott and Louise for this inquiry-based science and technology program. Galaxy programs SNOOPS, Fixer Uppers and The House also continue this fall. Anticipated enrolment in the Galaxy Classroom is close to 1,000 classrooms across Canada. And a plus for Ontario – its programming is fully compliant with the new curricula.


TVOntario’s Great Canadian Challenge ( is the provincial broadcaster’s most recent multimedia resource. Developed by the On-line Group at TVO, the site allows intermediate and higher levels students to get to know their country. Students explore an interactive map of Canada and answer questions about history, geography and pop culture. Ontario students create their own web page and explain what it means, for them, to be Canadian. A dialogue is then initiated with youth around the world.

Internet surfers aged 10 to 12 have access to Kewl Skewl ( Children use their intuition to uncover the secrets of astronomy, astrology and cryptography. At the end of the adventure, they have solved enigmas, decoded secret messages and rotated 3D illustrations in a bold attempt to discover the true nature of the universe.


French-language TFO has more than 2,000 educational programs, serving some 400 schools in Ontario. Starting this fall, tfo’s web site ( ) will boast a searchable database with access to TFO resources related to specific content of new Ministry of Education and Training programs.

Liaison, a network of 400 teachers, makes it possible for a continuing exchange among schools and enriches TFO’s educational programming. Last year alone, a team of eight educators offered 84 free workshops on audio-visual and multimedia training to more than 2,000 French-language educators.

Aimed at four- to 11-year-olds, Méga tfo vignettes are amusing learning breaks that are broadcast between shows on tfo. The vignettes can be about anything – acquiring new vocabulary, colloquialisms, or developing social values and critical sense. The vignettes model the new elementary French curriculum and can be integrated with other subjects.

tfo’s most ambitious project yet, Campus Internet, is an innovation that serves as the place for interactive learning. It will be linked with French teaching resources around the world. The site will offer an elementary school, secondary school, college, university, and arts centre. For parents, an interactive portion of the site will also be available.


Initiatives like VClass, the Galaxy Classroom and Liaison go beyond programming for students – there’s plenty here for teachers.

Last year, VClass hosted sessions for teachers on the new science and technology curriculum. Just-in-time, on-site training like this, saves time and money. Teachers were supplied with information about new curriculum documents, new ministry policies and new software without the need to travel.

Some of this year’s technology-driven initiatives include:

  • a new professional development web site
  • lesson plans correlated to the new elementary school curriculum
  • a fax-back system for those who don’t have ready, easy access to the Internet
  • VClass sessions on conflict resolution, professional journal writing, practical curriculum tips and technology strategies.

For more information about TVO VClass, call Ray Beyers, (416)484-2600, ext. 2069; TVO Galaxy Classroom, Heather Friesen, (416) 484-2600, ext. 5079; TVO professional development, call Helen Coltrinari, (416) 484-2600, ext. 2775; tfo’s Secteur Enfance, scolaire et formation, call Annette Lalonde, (416)484-2600, ext. 2407; On-line Group, call Brian Elston (TVO), (416)484-2600, ext. 2443, or Renaud Joubert (tfo), (416)484-2600, poste 2064.

Helen Coltrinari, TVO’s manager of professional development and accreditation, is a former teacher with the North York Board and a member of the College of Teachers. André Champagne is the director of programming, youth, education and training, at tfo. He was an educational designer for the Collège des Grands Lacs.