"Certain Media Biases:" Lecturing via TV, Radio, Text

In completing a research project looking into McLuhan, media theory and education, I’ve been reading about an early experiment on “certain media biases” and the pedagogical form of the lecture. Download a .pdf of the initial report, originally published in 1954 in Explorations. The New York Times (right) reported on it as well. Marchand’s McLuhan biography, provides a brief excellent overview:

One of the more interesting experiments the seminar group conducted was an attempt, orchestrated by Carpenter, to demonstrate that different media of communication did indeed have an effect quite apart from the content of information they conveyed. In the spring of 1954 more than one hundred students were divided into four groups. At the local studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, one group watched a lecture delivered on television, a second attended the same lecture delivered in a television studio, a third listened to it over the radio, and a fourth read it in printed form. All groups then took an exam to test their comprehension and retention of the contents of the lecture. As Carpenter later wrote in Explorations, “About twenty of us in the seminar placed bets on the outcome. Academics all, we each seriously thought print would win and merely selected other media as sporting bet.” It was the group watching the lecture on television that scored highest in the test, however. The print group scored lower than even the radio listeners.

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