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Formative Period, 1923-1931
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AECT’s direct ancestor was formed in 1923 as the Department of Visual Instruction (DVI) of the National Education Association (NEA), and it remained a unit of the NEA, located within its Washington DC headquarters, for 48 years.

It was in the same year, 1923, that the prolific inventor Thomas Edison repeated an earlier prediction that motion pictures would replace books as the primary instructional medium; he figured it would take about twenty years to complete the conversion. This prediction was consistent with the tenor of the times. This was the Roaring Twenties and in the U.S. there was a widespread feeling that we had entered new, even revolutionary, times, driven by the rapid pace of industrialization and urbanization.

An Early 2x2 Inch Slide Projector
Competing organizations

DVI was formed at a time of rapidly increasing interest in the potential of visual media—particularly slides and motion pictures—in schools, colleges, and university extension divisions. During the period of 1916 to 1922 there were already two fledgling organizations outside the NEA struggling to give voice to this new movement, the National Academy of Visual Instruction (NAVI) and the Visual Instruction Association of America (VIAA). Meanwhile, inside the NEA there was considerable enthusiasm for harnessing the new emerging media but also a complex power struggle to decide how to position this new force within the larger organization. Various individuals and committees represented visual education at the semi-annual NEA conventions leading up to 1923. Many of the leading figures occupied leadership positions in all three organizations. Most prominent were Ernest L. Crandall, Director of Libraries and Visual Instruction, New York City Schools, and Dudley Grant Hays, Chief of University of Wisconsin’s Bureau of Visual Instruction.

NEA establishes DVI

After considerable debate and maneuvering at the 1923 summer convention of the NEA in Oakland, CA, the Representative Assembly finally did recommend establishment and the NEA Board of Directors finally did establish the new Department of Visual Instruction (DVI) on July 6, 1923. Harry Bruce Wilson, Superintendent of Schools, Berkeley, CA was named as the first president.

A Tenuous Existence

During the first seven years of its existence, the DVI had no permanent staff or headquarters, disseminated no publications, and offered no substantive services to its members. It took tangible form only at the annual NEA summer convention and the mid-winter meeting of the Department of Superintendence, where members met, participated in their own program, and held meetings of the officers to conduct organizational business. Membership was open to all NEA members upon payment of dues to DVI ($1 in 1931), but effective membership was limited to those who were able to attend these meetings, at which one to two hundred people took part in DVI programs. Office-holding tended to be passed around among those who were regular convention participants (pdf). Following Wilson, the elected presidents were:

  • 1924-1927, Ernest L. Crandall, Director of Libraries and Visual Instruction, New York City Schools (served three consecutive terms)
  • 1927-1929, Anna V. Dorris, Director of Visual Instruction, Berkeley City Schools, and lecturer at San Francisco State College (two terms)
  • 1929-1930, John A. Hollinger, Director, Department of Science, Nature Study, School Gardens, and Visualization, Pittsburgh City Schools
  • 1930-1931, W.W. Whittinghill, Supervisor of Visual Instruction, Detroit Public Schools (two terms)

The first presidents, in the 1920s, were all affiliated with public schools. In the 1930s, there was a nearly equal mix of school people and those from universities, especially from extension divisions. After World War II the pendulum swung almost completely toward higher education. From the late 1940s through the late 1960s 23 of 25 presidents worked in higher education.

No Journal of their Own

There had been a number of periodicals promoting the interests of the movement, most prominently Visual Education and The Educational Screen, but by 1924 The Educational Screen was the major publication. The first president, Harry Wilson, established the precedent of publishing DVI news in The Educational Screen and it became thereafter the de facto journal of the organization.

Early Accomplishments

In spite of its limited formal resources, DVI could claim a number of accomplishments. Members helped each other with job placement, they spoke in favor of needed legislation—particularly regarding non-flammable film, and they served as liaisons to other groups and to commercial interests. The group also solidified support behind the use of the term "visual instruction” as the name for the field.


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