|January 7, 2000||Volume 7, Number 8|
DAVS head parlayed media interest into full career
By Sigrid Klaus
In January of 1986, on a return flight from Ottawa, Danielle Fortosky, head of the Universitys Division of Audio Visual Services, was in a funk.
Professor Michael Hayden, who happened to be on the same flight, asked: "Why so glum?"
Well, she explained, a communications research centre in Ottawa had lent DAVS this satellite uplink hardware to conduct some distance education trials at the U of S.
The Division did produce some non-credit courses with the equipment, she told him. But because it hadnt managed to interest any academic department in delivering a credit course with it, she had to return the equipment.
"Ill teach a class for you," Hayden cheerfully offered.
Thus began Fortoskys, and the Universitys, successful foray into distance education via satellite.
Later that summer, DAVS with Professors Bob Brack, Extension; Ron Marken, English; and Hayden, History helped to initiate the Saskatchewan Tele-Learning Association. By 1988, STELLA was delivering courses to 36 sites across the province and ultimately became the prototype for the Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN).
"When the government decided to go ahead with SCN in 1989," Fortosky says, "they used STELLA as a basis. Were now into a 10-year association, and our second broadcasting contract, with SCN. Its been highly beneficial to both parties."
Fortosky fondly recalls the early production days of providing classes live via satellite, which included a number of historical vignettes, such as life at Louis XIVs Versailles.
"At 4 oclock on the day of the class, wed do a brief rehearsal of the vignettes, then go to air at 7 p.m. Richard Gorrie, a teaching assistant who wrote the pieces, would direct them as part of the lecture. The results were sometimes unpredictable, but the spontaneity gave the aired lectures an immediacy and sense of fun."
In discussing the Divisions success with distance education, she emphasizes the collaborative effort that was made among DAVS, faculty, and Extension.
"You could have the most sophisticated technical capability in the world, but without the creativity and keenness of teachers like Marken and Hayden, these classes would not have succeeded."
Although Fortosky is no longer involved with the day-to-day production of distance education undertakings, shes pleased with their on-going excellence as evidenced, for example, by Professor Paul Bidwells winning SCNs Garth Ferguson Award for Excellence in Televised Teaching, in 1998.
The interplay of mediums and messages has always appealed to Fortosky.
Before joining DAVS in 1974, for example, she used television as a component in some English classes she taught at E.D. Feehan. For instance, she once simulated the format of the then-popular Front Page Challenge quiz show to highlight the life and times of Thomas More in the context of teaching The Man for All Seasons.
But her real entrée into show business came in 1971 when a two-hour musical she developed with 12 students was used in the Separate School Systems Diamond Jubilee celebrations and Homecoming 71.
"Saskatchewan: Im Coming Home" is about a stranded-on-the-east-coast gopher whose longing for the prairies causes him to sing-and-dance his way back to Saskatchewan.
Featuring the Yevshan Dancers and 18 original songs written by Fortosky and Feehan students and involving some 250 people, it played at the Centennial Auditorium in May of 1971 and at the Centre of the Arts, Regina the following year.
As a result of its warm reception, Fortosky won a Theatre Canada scholarship to study broadcasting with Norman Campbell, of Anne of Green Gables fame. She spent 10 days working on the CBC production The Wonder of it All, which Campbell and his wife Elaine wrote on the life of Emily Carr.
"Being involved in every aspect of that production, and especially being able to consult with Norman, was a wonderful learning opportunity. Hes a great director, particularly because of the collegial way in which he works with the actors and production people. And Ill never get some of the songs out of my mind especially one that begins I think a thing/And draw a line around it/I draw a line and then Im on my way."
Back in Saskatoon, she completed her BEd degree, in which she had taken a number of television production classes as electives. One of her instructors and then head of DAVS, Gerry Farkas, was so impressed with her production that he invited her to head up his television production unit.
In 1979, during a leave of absence to pursue an M.Ed. degree in France, she compiled two suitcases full of notes towards a thesis on French educational television.
But when she returned to the U of S, she came to realize how useful a thesis on distance education would be to the institution and began research anew for what eventually grew into a thesis on the topic.
However, she acknowledges that her graduate work in France helped guide some of the early initiatives in distance education via satellite. It also influenced her winning a broadcasting award to study the BBC/Open University relationship, in London.
As head of DAVS, Fortosky has seen the Division expand to include 80 employees working in all aspects of media production and development.
These days, shes involved in the push to upgrade classrooms and labs across campus with multi-media equipment.
"Two years ago, we went to the Capital Planning Committee with a proposal to spend $3.9 million over five years. This was to upgrade 60 classsrooms, lecture theatres, and labs with multi-media consoles, and to purchase 20 mobile media carts."
Budget restrictions have slowed the installation of this equipment. But 10 of the mobile consoles are now functioning, six lecture theatres are in place, and four more are slated to be done next summer.
"These improvements should go some distance in making teaching easier and more effective, particularly in the large lecture theatres."
Despite more than 26 years in DAVS, Fortosky doesnt plan to retire soon, although her husband Ted did retire from his principalship in the Separate School System last June. They have, however, built a house in Comox, BC, where they spend summer and ski holidays and will eventually retire.
Yet, she says, she cant really see leaving Saskatchewan permanently. Perhaps a measure of her deep roots here is that of all the awards she and the Division have won, the ones she treasures most are the YWCA Woman of the Year Award (Education) she won in 1985 and the Distinguished Alumni Award she and Ted won from STM in 1996.
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