Although far from the best, the earliest recollection of educational media being used in my classes seems to be the good, old filmstrip projector. I’m not talking about the classic reel-to-reel film projector that gave the pleasing “fwap-fwap-fwap” as the film continued to spin after the movie had ended. No, this was a device in which a filmstrip
was advanced slide by slide by hand. Typically, a student would be lucky enough to get the job of forwarding the slides by either turning a knob or, on later models, pressing a button. The filmstrip itself was always rolled up in a small canister and had to be fed into the top (or was it the bottom) of the machine. Once threaded, the teacher would hit play on a recording (typically a cassette tape) and a “beep” would tell the student to advance the slide. (Clearly, we’re not talking rocket science here, but there are, in fact, instructional pages to help you learn the ins and outs of advancing a filmstrip.) As the story moved along, the “beeps” kept coming until, finally, the ‘show’ ended and the filmstrip was rolled up and stored for the next group of lucky student.
Depending on the class, the material could range from fairly basic to surprisingly complex and allowed students to see a variety of places or make connections to things far away much like a film. Interestingly, it seems like there would be some advantage to this format over a reel-to-reel film (which seems much more advanced to my mind.) For example, the filmstrip does allow for the teacher to hit “stop” on the recording and interject with their own ideas or personal experiences relating to the subject matter. Of course, there are disadvantages as well, as a this somewhat odd source of information called Vision 20/20 points out.
Clearly, this is just one, small part of the world of visual media in education, but it seems to me it was on par with films, VHS tapes or television of the time. Although they are admittedly not as engaging as a film, filmstrips can in fact tell a story and share fairly substantive information as this example of a filmstrip on globalization demonstrates (be sure to listen for the “beeps”). In terms of overall importance, it seems that filmstrips, television and most other audio-visual media are most important when they allow students to expand their own world and see places and things they might not otherwise be exposed to.