Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Nicholas Michelli

Committee Members

Dr. Terrie Epstein

Dr. Lev Manovich

Dr. Nicholas Michelli

Subject Categories

Online and Distance Education | Other Arts and Humanities | Other Film and Media Studies | Television


education, technology, online learning, MOOCs, Sunrise Semester


Lessons from early academic television courses from the 1950s guide an assessment of current disruptive technologies that shape Massive Open Online Courses (known as MOOCs) and other informal online learning opportunities today. This dissertation explores some of the unique contributing factors that led to the creation of Sunrise Semester (1957-1982), a popular network television program co-produced by New York University and CBS that offered college credit to viewers. Despite the fact that the show aired at dawn and rarely included one-on-one interactions with professors, Sunrise Semester aired for nearly twenty-five years and attracted a devoted viewership of over two million daily viewers at its peak. The show’s earliest fans were largely female and revealed their identities as housewives, homemakers or “hausfraus” in fan letters written to their pre-dawn professors. Now housed in the NYU Archives, their letters reveal many of the complex contradictions between nascent feminism, television, and power in post-World War II era America. As present day practitioners look to utilize MOOCs as an outreach strategy to bring educational access to scale, innovations from the “golden age” of television offer crucial lessons in how to attract and maintain non-traditional audiences.