Lecturing on the Big Screen: Closed-Circuit Television at the Loyola School of Dentistry

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections. Check back over the next six weeks for new stories.

Over the course of nearly a century, students sought out dental education in the United States in high demand. Dental schools popped up all across the country from the late-nineteenth century and into the mid-twentieth century, becoming well-rated, and drawing in an international pool of students. Some schools, especially in the late-nineteenth century, even required medical degrees upon admission. Even among hundreds of dental schools, some emerged as the best and most respected. One of these top-tier dental schools was the Loyola School of Dentistry. It all started in 1883, when Truman W. Brophy established the Chicago Dental Infirmary on 22 West Adams Street. Renamed the Chicago College of Dental Surgery (CCDS) with a new charter in 1888, the college grew quickly in size and reputation. Over its first 5 years, CCDS moved into new buildings a total of four times to accommodate the growing student population and dental technology needs. By 1893, the school found its longtime home at 1757 West Harrison Street [1].

Figure 1: Photograph of the Chicago College of Dental Surgery at 1757 W Harrison [2].

From its inception, CCDS pioneered the field of dental education and attracted students from across the globe. As early as 1890, school officials noted student enrollment from countries such as Canada, Germany, and Peru [3]. The school was the first to integrate the educational use of apparatuses for cultivating bacteria, and boasted a graduate, who later became Dean of Faculty, who was responsible for reorganizing the Dental Corps of the United States Army [4]. Though these innovations came within the school’s first forty years, CCDS continued to raise the standards of dental education. In 1923, the Chicago College of Dental Surgery affiliated with Loyola University Chicago. Under the university’s charter, and a newly formed Department of Dental Research, faculty members contributed to dental literature at an unprecedented pace. It was in 1954, however, that the Chicago College of Dental Surgery took one of its largest strides in pioneering dental education—It became the first dental school in the United States to own a permanent closed-circuit television system for clinical lectures [5].

Beginning in 1951, Loyola University reserved local channel 11 for the first round of TV programming coming from the university. Broadcasts included university updates, music programs, and Rev. Francis Filas, S.J.’s yearly Christmas special [6]. TV broadcasting from the university turned out to be a successful investment for Loyola. From the initial incorporation of university public broadcasting, departments of the university implemented the use of television for their own needs. The dental school was no exception.

As the student population at CCDS grew, so did the needs of faculty members to properly instruct clinical practices. Dental students typically crowded around one dental chair in order to observe the techniques of their professors. This manner of observation could only serve three to four students at one time, and the rest of the class would miss first-hand instruction on dental care. One way that CCDS attempted to alleviate the issue was by establishing a Department of Visual Education in 1950, where photographic slides were made available for classroom use [7]. Four years later, the alumni publication of CCDS, The Bur, reported a recent purchase by the department of a closed-circuit television [8]. The purchase reflected the broader effort by Loyola to implement educational material on broadcast television.

Figure 2: A pamphlet advertises closed-circuit television at the dental school [9].

Shortly after the Chicago College of Dental Surgery purchased the closed-circuit television equipment, the school presented its new clinical lecture method at the Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting in February of 1954. The poster and table presentation, titled “Teaching Dentistry with TV,” displayed the advantages of the closed-circuit TV method. On the left side of the board, a picture showing students crowding around a dental chair to observe their professor is pinned with the caption “Few Really See.” On the right side of the board, presenters pinned a photo of current dental students watching a lecture with the TV projections. The caption under this photograph reads “Vision Unlimited.” Clearly, the dental school envisioned a bright future for its students upon adopting a new lecture style. The Bur also took a positive approach to the method. In the 1954 issue of the bulletin, editors praised the Visual Department’s new purchase:

In recent months this department has been highlighted with purchase of its own closed circuit television system. This means that the faculty at the dental school, through its own department of visual education, can televise any demonstration, technic or clinical procedure from anywhere in the dental school building, to any other part of the school. For example, it will be possible to televise an oral surgery procedure from the surgery to the amphitheatre, where it will be possible for 100 students to see what is being done instead of the usual one or two. The use will not be limited only to clinical demonstration, but will have a place also in laboratory demonstrations, such as setting up of teeth or even an anatomical [dissection]. [10]

Figure 3: The dental school’s presentation at the Chicago Dental Society meeting [11].

Within the first eight months of incorporated closed-circuit lecturing in the dental school curriculum, students and alumni already expressed positive interest in the new format. The Bur reported, “The days of a few students viewing an operation is past. Now the entire class has a front seat” [12]. Closed-circuit television opened avenues for the dental school. Students were no longer limited to a faraway view of their professors’ hands, nor did they need to rely on notes from classmates who had a closer look at clinical techniques. Displaying the professor’s work on televisions inside an amphitheater meant that more students could view the lecture at once; in effect, the dental school could accept more students into the program with the new method. Implementing closed-circuit television also decreased the amount of time professors spent on each lecture, since they could easily move from one technique to another without worrying about students’ poor vantage points.

Figure 4: Students watch their instructor on the screens at the front of the classroom [13].
Figure 5: A technician holds a camera for the procedure to be broadcast to a classroom [14].

Even after the incorporation of closed-circuit television for lecture halls, CCDS remained committed to innovative teaching methods and spaces. By the late 1960s, Loyola’s dental school was the only school in Illinois to teach the “four-handed, sit-down” method [15]. The method utilizes the help of dental assistants alongside the dental practitioner for more efficient dental hygiene appointments, and is still incorporated in dental assistant programs today. Additionally, a new dental school building was completed on the Maywood medical campus in 1969 to accommodate more students, lab space, and technology. During the centennial celebration of Loyola University in 1970, a commemorative booklet noted that fifty-one percent of Chicagoland dentists were graduates of CCDS [16]. Loyola’s dental school retained its strong reputation as one of the state’s largest dental schools until decreasing enrollment and high maintenance costs led to its closing in 1993. Although Loyola no longer has a formal college of dentistry, the former school’s Maywood building has been renamed the Maguire Center, and houses the medical campus’ Oral Health Center [17].

-Bianca Bárcenas