I.C.S. (International Correspondence Schools) (1889 to the Present)

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I.C.S. (International Correspondence Schools) (1889 to the Present)

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Sep 09, 2019 7:34 pm

PART 1 of 3

I.C.S. (International Correspondence Schools)
The International Correspondence Schools (I.C.S.) was founded in 1889 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., by journalist and editor of the Mining Herald, Thomas J. Foster. Troubled by the frequency of mine accidents, Foster advocated for better working conditions and stricter safety regulations, efforts which led to the state’s adoption of the Mine Safety Act of 1885 coupled with a requirement that miners and inspectors pass examinations on mine safety. With a view to assisting mine workers pass the new test, Foster began an advice column in the Mining Herald, answering mine safety questions. Disappointed by the uncertain results of this approach, Foster founded the Colliery Engineer School of Mines in 1889, the first “distance learning” institution in the United States. The organisation changed names several times, finally settling on “International Correspondence Schools of Scranton” in 1891.

The first class enrolled 500 miners. Within eight years, over 190,000 students had enrolled in the courses. By the first decade of the twentieth century, over 100,000 new students per year were enrolling in I.C.S. courses covering a broad range of subjects. By 1910, a million cumulative enrollments had been achieved; and, by 1930, four million. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography considers I.C.S. to have been “by far the largest single educational institution in America’s history.” Actually, I would be inclined to dispute this assertion and would argue that the United States Armed Forces Institute (U.S.A.F.I.) provided basic instruction in at least as wide a field of technical subjects as did I.C.S., but to a far a greater number of students.

To continue then, Foster remained the president of I.C.S. until his death in 1936 at age 93. The organisation expanded to Canada and to the United Kingdom where the name was ultimately changed to ICS Learn. By the 1990s, greater educational offerings had reduced the role of correspondence schools, causing I.C.S. to review the scope and direction of their operations, resulting in numerous changes their structure since 1996 including several to their corporate name. The original I.C.S. premises are currently operated by Penn Foster Career School, a regionally and nationally accredited post-secondary distance education school, which acknowledges I.C.S. as its predecessor.

Those amongst you who might interested in learning more about the school’s history, including a glimpse at their impressive list of course manuals, are invited to visit the I.C.S. archival website. In addition, samples of the course manuals from I.C.S.’s early years are hosted on the University of Pennsylvania’s Online Books Library website and that of the University of Scranton. See below.

International Correspondence School & American School of Correspondence Directories Archive

University of Pennsylvania - Online Books Library

University of Scranton - ICS Collection

Areas of Study
Although the impetus behind the International Correspondence Schools was the promotion of mine safety through the education of mine workers and mine inspectors, Foster broadened the school’s mission “to provide practical men with a technical education, and technical men with a practical education.” Many of the school’s programmes were accredited by state educational, professional, and examining boards throughout the United States. The image below is of a newspaper advertisement from around 1900 listing the programmes available at that time: Mechanical Engineer, Mechanical Draftsman, Gas Engineer, Refrigeration Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Electrical Machine Designer, Electrician, Telephone Engineer, Steam Engineer, Civil Engineer, Surveyor, Mining Engineer, Metallurgist, Architect, Contractor and Builder, Architectural Draftsman, Sign Painter, Letterer, Analytical Chemist, Ornamental Designer, Cotton Mill Superintendent, Woolen Mill Superintendent, Textile Designer, Navigator, Bookkeeper, Stenographer, Teacher, and … To Speak French, To Speak German, To Speak Spanish. As the organisation grew and expanded, additional certificate programmes were included in the school’s catalogue.
I.C.S. Advertisement 2.jpg
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Printed Materials
Convinced that the standard textbooks of the period were too academic for the average worker and that, in addition, they demanded too great a knowledge of mathematics and of other subjects, Foster and his staff at the I.C.S. prepared their own "Instruction and Question Papers" to provide exactly the information that the students needed … and no more. The image below depicts the building which housed I.C.S.’s own printing operations, the “International Textbook Company” which also operated under the imprint the “International Educational Publications Company” and the "Colliery Engineer Company."
I.C.S. School 2.jpg
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Instruction and Question Papers
I am introducing the following topic now as it influenced not only I.C.S.’s language courses, but others as well. Initially, the school’s "Instruction and Question Papers" for a given programme were large collections of booklets each of which covered a small number topics, or lessons, which formed part of a specific programme, along with a guide for use of the materials, practice papers, self-tests, examination papers, and standardized stationery for submission to, and communication with, the school’s distant-learning instructors/examiners.
I.C.S. Booklets (1900's) 1.jpg
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I.C.S. Reference Library
Around 1903, the school began a process of consolidating the course booklets into “I.C.S. Reference Library” hard-bound textbooks, each covering a broad range of materials within one or more programmes. The Preface to their language courses explained this change in procedure as follows: “Formerly it was our practice to send to each student entitled to receive them a set of volumes printed and bound especially for the Course for which the student enrolled. In consequence of the vast increase in the enrolment, this plan became no longer practicable and we therefor concluded to issue a single set of volumes, comprising all our textbooks, under the general title of I.C.S. Reference Library. The students receive such volumes of this Library as contain the instruction to which they are entitled. Under this plan, some volumes contain one or more Papers not included in the particular Course for which the student enrolled, but in no case are any subjects omitted that form a part of such Course. This plan is particularly advantage to those students who enroll for more than one Course, since they no longer receive volumes that are, in some cases, practically duplicates of those they already have. This arrangement also renders it much easier to revise a volume and keep each subject up to date. Each volume in the Library contains, in addition to the text proper, the Examination Questions and (for those subjects in which they are issued) the Answers to the Examination Questions. […] The method of numbering pages and articles is such that each part is complete in itself; hence, in order to make the indexes intelligible, it was necessary to give each part a number […]” The image below is that of the four volumes making up the I.C.S. French Course of the period.
I.C.S. French Reference Library.JPG
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It should be noted that, throughout its more than century-long history, I.C.S. continued to make changes to the manner in which the course materials were prepared for use by their distant-learning students. A quick search of eBay.com using “International Correspondence Schools” as a search criterion yields offers of a variety of I.C.S. study packages.
I.C.S. Course Materials (1960's).jpg
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Attachments, typos, tinkering.
Last edited by Speakeasy on Thu Sep 19, 2019 12:10 pm, edited 14 times in total.
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Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2524
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:19 pm
Location: Canada (Montréal region)
Languages: English (N), French (C2). Studying: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Polish, and Russian; all with widely varying degrees of application, enthusiasm, and success.
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Re: I.C.S. (International Correspondence Schools) (1889 to the Present)

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Sep 09, 2019 7:39 pm

PART 2 of 3

I.C.S. Language Courses
As early as 1901, I.C.S. began marketing comprehensive courses for the home-study of English, French, German, and Spanish under the title “I.C.S. Method for the Study of Modern Languages With Phonograph Records” or simply “I.C.S. Language System.” While my searches of the internet suggest that there were at least two “generations” of these courses up to the 1920’s, I have not come across any materials for subsequent periods, save for the school’s contemporary courses (see Part 3 below).

1st Generation Language Courses
Printed Materials
As reported in Part 1, above, the 1901 edition of the printed materials would have been large sets of booklets or “training papers” each containing lessons, readings, notes on grammar, vocabularies, et cetera. In 1903, a revised of edition of the printed materials was published grouping these training papers into sets of four “I.C.S. Reference Library” manuals, each of which treated an individual subject (Conversational Lessons, Reader, Grammar, Lexicon), measuring roughly 6-inches x 9-inches, for an astonishing total of 1,600-odd pages.
I.C.S. French Reference Library.JPG
I.C.S. French Reference Library.JPG (43.1 KiB) Viewed 736 times

Recorded Materials
The original series of these language courses included sets of 24 phonograph cylinders which were supplied to I.C.S. by Thomas A. Edison Industries. Edison was also a supplier of phonograph cylinders to the Cortina Language Academy and to several other publishers of language courses of the period. The image below is of one of a set of 24 phonograph cylinders which formed part of the materials of the “I.C.S. Language System” French course. The reverse side of the cylinders contained the following advisory notice to the user: “This practically indestructible record is made from a mold that insures the unvarying pronunciation indispensable to a thorough mastery of the sounds of a foreign language. NOTE: Use very slow speed-90 revolutions per minute-much slower than amusement records which are run at 160.”
I.C.S. Phonograph Cylinder French Lesson 1.jpg
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As reported in the discussion thread “Phonograph Cylinder Audio Archives Vintage Language Courses” of September 2019, the University of California Berkley UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive WEBSITE hosts samples of the audio recordings for all of the I.C.S. Language Courses of the period (English, French, German, Spanish), catalogued under the sub-section “Language Instruction” (http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/browse.php)

Approach to Teaching
The approach to teaching differed from that of the Cortina, Rosenthal, and Gastineau courses of the era. Whereas the former relied principally on scripted, situational dialogues accompanied by brief notes which were referenced to a summary of the L2 grammar in the annexe, the I.C.S. courses presented a more comprehensive exposure of the target language. The Conversational Lessons, Reader, and Grammar contained sections which were to be studied concurrently. The (unaccredited) authors underscored the school’s opinion that “mastery” of a foreign language implied a high level of skill in speaking, listening, reading, and writing the L2 correctly; that is, grammatically and without error.

Conversational Lessons
The ‘Conversational Lessons’ introduced the spoken language through a series phrases, sentences, including variants of expressing more-or-less the same basic ideas to be practiced as drills, and scripted dialogues, accompanied by well-conceived explanatory notes. One of several surprises was that, while the language used was formal by today’s standards, it was not as stilted as that which appeared in the Cortina, Hugo, and Rosenthal language courses of the period. This manual alone, in combination with the audio recordings, represented a solid introduction to the L2’s spoken language equivalent to CEFR B1+. Of SPECIAL NOTE is that these courses of language instruction required that the student record his own rendition of the conversations on a phonograph cylinder and submit these recordings to the I.C.S. instructor located at the company’s headquarters from review and comment. This part of the learning process was removed from the language programme with the publication of the 2nd generation courses. The image below is drawn from a typical lesson of the I.C.S. French course, 1st generation.
I.C.S. French Typical Lesson.JPG
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The ‘Reader’ contained extracts from best of the target language’s literature, the texts of which were in the L2 only, with only the rarest of comments in English. Questions designed to measure the student’s comprehension of the texts, and other exercise materials, appeared frequently throughout the readings. All notes and explanations were in the target language only. Although the texts were purportedly graded, my familiarity with French, German, and Spanish leads to believe that the readings would have represented a significant challenge to the student. As was the common practice of publishers of German courses of the period, many passages were printed in the standard Fraktur calligraphic Latin blackletter typeface typically encountered in native German publications. Completion of the reading programme and would have brought the student well within the CEFR B2-C1 range. The image below is drawn from the I.C.S. French course Reader, 1st generation.
I.C.S. French Typical Reading Lesson.JPG
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Grammar, Lexicon
The ‘Grammar’ was keyed to the two course manuals mentioned above, providing more in-depth explanations of the conversations and readings; however, despite this format, the manual could easily have served as a stand-alone grammar of the target language. The ‘Lexicon’ was bilingual glossary containing all of the vocabulary items encountered in the other volumes which formed the basic materials of the language course.

2nd Generation Language Courses
Self-Instruction as opposed to Instruction by Correspondence
In 1917, I.C.S. introduced a new “generation” of their home-study language courses. The Preface to the first volume of the revised textbooks explained the changes as follows: “This method of self-instruction was evolved by the International Correspondence Schools as a result of teaching Modern Languages by correspondence to over 20,000 students. The original method included a system of recitations by the student on phonograph cylinders, which were mailed to the Schools and the pronunciation corrected by a native of the country whose language the student was studying. Experience soon proved, however, that this was not necessary as the records were so clear that a diligent student almost invariably acquired an excellent pronunciation from them alone. The unparalleled success of the method created a demand for it from schools and private classes and from individuals that did not care to take the time for correspondence instruction. The arrangement of the method in these Volumes was made expressing to meet this demand. The exercises have been arranged for individual home study and for classroom work or private lessons with a teacher and home study with the phonograph […]”

Printed Materials
The new generation of course manuals comprised three hard-covered textbooks, identified as Book I, II, III, respectively, for a total of approximately 830 pages, or roughly half that of the 1st generation manuals. The image below is of the three volumes making up the I.C.S. Spanish course, 2nd generation.
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Recorded Materials
I.C.S. kept pace with changes in audio recording technology and, perhaps somewhere around 1920, supplanted the sets of Edison phonograph cylinders with binders containing the fifteen 10-inch x 78 rpm shellac records (I have a set of the records for the company’s French course). The new generation of recordings were of the 50 conversations which appeared in the lessons.

Lesson Layout
The Preface describe the lesson layout as follows: “The Course comprises three volumes of Conversational lessons which are divided into six distinct parts: the Vocabulary, or list of words to be memorized; the Conversation, or collection of sentences such as are currently employed in daily life and forms, as it were, the basis of every lesson; the Remarks, which explain the differences between English and [Language] and introduce by degrees the fundamental rules of the language; the Drill, or groups of sentences so arranged to serve as examples of the rules given in the preceding Section; the Review, which again presents the expressions learned in the lesson and in those which have preceded it, thus permitting the student to assimilate them thoroughly, This Review is a real test, in as much as one can read and understand it without effort, it is certain that the lesson has been properly learned; finally, the Exercises, both written and spoken.” While, in contrast to the 1st generation courses, those of the 2nd generation emphasized the “spoken” language and lacked reading passages, there was sufficient material to promote the development of good, basic reading skills. While I would most definitely NOT describe the 2nd generation language courses as a simplification of those which preceded them, I am left with the impression that, upon completion, a diligent student would have achieved (very roughly) a level of somewhere within the CEFR B1 zone.

Discontinuation of the I.C.S. Language Courses?
The I.C.S.. language courses appeared in 1901 and were revised circa 1903, principally for changes to the physical format. Thereafter, a new edition of the reference manuals was published in 1917 for all languages in the series, followed by a new edition in 1921 containing minor revisions. As I have been unable to find any subsequent editions of these courses, it may be that the 1921 edition was the last one in the I.C.S. “vintage” language courses. That is, it is possible that the company, coping with the world-wide economic depression of the 1930’s, a period when the commercial demand for all of their correspondence courses most likely declined, and faced with increasing competition from competitors such as Cortina and Linguaphone, withdrew from this market. Although the I.C.S. archives are silent on the question, this withdrawal from field of foreign language teaching may have occurred at some time between 1930 and 1940. I have not come across any materials other than those described above or the contemporary language courses mentioned below.

Appreciation: Fabulous!
The I.C.S. language courses of the first half of the 20th century were surprisingly comprehensive, much more so than those of their main competitors: Cortina, Linguaphone, Rosenthal and, somewhat later, Assimil. While it is understandable that the approach to teaching would differ amongst these prominent publishers of foreign language courses, what set those of I.C.S. apart from their rivals was the inclusion of an generous course in reading and a significantly deeper study of the L2’s structure. I would assess these materials as being equivalent to a two-year college/university programme for the study English, French, German, or Spanish. The level upon completion would have been CEFR B1-B2 for the 1st generation courses, with a somewhat lower level for the 2nd generation courses. The only ‘bugbear’ would have been that the student, presumably studying in an independent-learning context, would have had difficulty practicing the L2’s spoken language beyond that provided by the roughly two hours of audio recordings, but this problem would have applied to all of the competitors’ courses, as well. All-in-all, the “vintage” I.C.S. language courses were quite comprehensive!

PART 3 of 3

Time Changes Everything
As reported above, during the early part of the 20th century, I.C.S. offered comprehensive courses for the home-study of a small selection of the more popular foreign languages (English, French, German, Spanish). Nevertheless, following years of increases in the broad availability of lower-priced self-study language courses, coupled with the declining role of correspondence schools, changes in consumers’ perceptions and tastes, and advances in technology, I.C.S. all-but-withdrew from this field of study. At present, the U.S.A., U.K., and Canadian websites offer language courses for online instruction of English and Spanish only.

Contemporary I.C.S. Language Courses
The website of ICS Learn (U.K.) specifies that their English course corresponds to IGCSE (which is broadly equivalent to CEFR A2-B1). While the contemporary courses may not be quite as comprehensive as those of the early twentieth century, given today’s technology, I would imagine that they contain significantly greater opportunities for practicing the spoken language. Note that one-to-one assistance of an online tutor is included in these courses.

The full price of these courses, as a one-time payment, is approximately 310 $US, which may imply that these courses are rather substantial, after all (working under the assumption is that price is an approximate indicator of value). Then again, the description of the Spanish course on the Penn Foster website leaves me with the impression that it is rather elementary, viz. “…foundational knowledge in the Spanish Language. Your classes cover how to read, write, and understand grammar and punctuation for basic Spanish conversations.”

Penn Foster Career School (U.S.A.) – Spanish, English
Penn Foster is the successor to the original I.C.S. Total price for the Spanish course, as a one-time payment, is 309 $US. Penn Foster also offers two courses in English (Reading and Writing English, and English Literature)

ICS Learn (Canada) - Spanish
Clicking on “Corporate Site” redirects to the website of Penn Foster Career School, the successor to the original I.C.S. I assume that the Spanish course is the same as the one offered on Penn Foster’s website. Total price for the Spanish course, as a one-time payment, is 399 $CAN.

ICS Learn (U.K.) - English
ICS Learn (U.K.) is no longer associated with the original I.C.S., or with its successor, Penn Foster. The ICS Learn (U.K.) website characterizes their English course as “The same IGCSE qualification you’d get in school, all online … Live online classrooms and unlimited 1:1 personal tutor support.” Total price for the English course, as a one-time payment, is £285.

There are numerous reviews on the internet by former students of the I.C.S. courses, none of which refer specifically to the company’s language courses. The reviews range from very positive through quite negative. In reading the more negative reviews, and in the admitted absence of any experience with the I.C.S. courses myself, I am tempted to conclude that many of the disappointed/disgruntled distant-learning students were unaware of the sustained commitment required to earn a recognized certification at the college level. That is, as many of the I.C.S. certificate programmes continue to be recognized by teaching institutions, professional organisations, and governmental authorities, it seems likely to me that the programmes themselves, and the tutoring services, are not the cause of some customers’ dissatisfaction.

Awareness of, or Experience with, I.C.S. Courses?
I would be surprised should a member of the LLORG report having used any of the I.C.S. language courses from the first half of the 20th century. Some readers of this file may have never even heard of this “first American distance learning” institution. For those amongst you who have heard of I.C.S., what were your overall impressions? Have you ever enrolled in one of their correspondence programmes (not necessarily a language course)? If so, how would you assess them?

Vintage 78 rpm Shellac Records?
I have a complete set of the printed materials (I.C.S. Reference Library manuals) for the school’s French, German, and Spanish courses, plus a set of the 78 rpm shellac records for the I.C.S. French course. As the audio files available on the University of California Berkley UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive are incomplete, this puts me in the market for a set of the 78 rpm shellac records for each of the German and Spanish courses. Does anyone happen to know where I can get a copy of the latter?
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