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National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958
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Prelude to the Legislation

Scientific and political history was made on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite, which was about the size of a basketball. This single event, more than any other, marked the start of the U.S.-Soviet Union space race.

Earlier, in 1955, the U.S. government announced plans to launch an Earth-orbiting satellite for the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958) and designated the Naval Research Laboratory's Vanguard proposal to represent the U.S. But the Sputnik launch caught the world's attention and the American public off-guard. Its size was more impressive than Vanguard's intended 3 ½ -pound payload and the public feared that the Soviets' ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Russia to the U.S.

Then the Soviets struck again; on November 3, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a much heavier payload, including a dog named Laika.

On January 31, 1958, the U.S. got into the race with the successful launch of Explorer I. This satellite carried a small scientific payload that eventually discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth, named after principal investigator, James Van Allen.

The stunning Soviet achievements led U.S. policy-makers to conclude that the Soviets had gained a substantial advantage in scientific research, prompting an urgent examination of the U.S. scientific establishment, including educational preparation in areas of science and technology.

Decision to Act

The U.S. Congress reached the conclusion that the American schools and colleges were not producing the quantity and quality of scientific and technical specialists necessary to keep pace with the Soviet Union. This diagnosis propelled Congress to pass a number of emergency measures in 1958, including the National Aeronautics and Space Act (establishing NASA) and the National Defense Education Act (NDEA).

Provisions Relevant to the Audiovisual Field

Equipment. Title III authorized grants ($70 million per year) to the states for purchase of equipment to strengthen science, math, and foreign language instruction. A sizable portion of these funds were used by schools to purchase AV equipment and materials.

Fellowships. Title IV funded 1500 fellowships per year to support three years of graduate study for individuals intending to become college teachers. Many of the future leaders of AECT were educated at NDEA fellowship programs at Syracuse, Michigan State, and University of Southern California.

Language Teaching Research and Summer Institutes. Title VI supported research on methods and materials for language teaching and area studies centers at universities. It also provided stipends to teachers to attend summer institutes on methods and materials for teaching. These summer institutes introduced thousands of teachers to the new educational media, many of whom became audiovisual specialists back in their schools…and members of AECT.

Media Research. Title VII promoted "research and experimentation in more effective utilization of television, radio, motion pictures, and related media for educational purposes.” As Saettler reports (p. 413), this part of the act was an afterthought, instigated by lobbyists for the audiovisual trade association, NAVA. Nevertheless, it provided, in the first year alone, $1.6 million for 45 research projects at universities across the U.S.

Impact of Title VII

A comprehensive evaluation of the impact of Title VII activities in 1968 by Filep and Schramm (cited in Saettler, p. 414) concluded that this program was successful in bringing new researchers into the educational media field, upgrading the quality of research, and encouraging the growth of academic programs in educational media. It also promoted the application of the systems approach, the development of individualized instruction, and teacher acceptance of media.

Some commentators felt that the scientific quality of the research tended to be rather low, and there was not a coordinated and sustained effort to build the knowledge base systematically. Further, because there were no specific provisions at that time for dissemination or implementation of research findings, Title VII research did not have a commensurate impact on day-to-day teaching practice.


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