Promise and Reception
By December of 1973, the Ripples program was in its third year of distribution and had been broadcast on over 150 television stations, reaching, by some estimates, more than one million children. As a result of this widespread exposure, researchers at NIT were interested in details about the reception of the program: how it was used in the classroom and whether it would stand the test of time as an effective educational tool. They wanted to know what teachers thought about the program and whether they would continue to use it. Therefore, a report was produced that examined the 1972/1973 school year. For contemporary scholars interested in the history of reception studies, the methods outlined in the Research Report, “Ripples”: A Third Year Survey are a window into how NIT researchers evaluated reception of educational media. While some NIT newsletters reported classroom observations that emphasized various modes of student engagement and the duration of their “eyes on the television,” the Research Report analyzed 399 questionnaires submitted by teachers who utilized the program, asking questions like:
- How do you feel about the Ripples program?
- Do you think Ripples will remain current for the next five years?
- In which curriculum areas do you use Ripples?
- [List] the three programs with the worst production qualities.
- Please write the number of the three programs that your students enjoyed the most.
- How many different TV programs does your class view during an average week?
For the most part, teachers and their students seemed to enjoy the program, and indicated that it was used for a diverse number of school subjects, like social studies, physical education, art, and music. Some teachers, (and possibly their students), however, found the program to be “immature,” while others were upset that the broadcasts occasionally ran out of sequence. One teacher who commented on her survey about the sequencing of the episodes even indicated how it: “doesn’t make sense to show the films in alphabetical order…My Students waited for months for the little boy to come home from the hospital,” referring to an episode that concludes with a boy’s hospital stay for a broken leg and only returns home in another episode.
In addition to this kind of feedback, teachers also reported using an average of three different television programs per week in the classroom and indicated that the programs, which were more focused on “aesthetics,” were the least popular. Later on, one of the solutions proposed for remedying this by NIT was separating the programs into modules based on whether they emphasized “aesthetics” or other themes, such as interpersonal communication or science and nature. This organizational strategy that was reflected in later NIT catalogues featuring the program.
It is unclear how popular Ripples remained in later years, though it seemed to appear in NIT catalogues until the mid 1980s. Additional research using the collection might be able to track further institutional discourse about the evolution and evaluation of this early program in NIT’s repertoire. Moreover, there’s still the matter of learning more about the efforts that went into the producing Ripples itself, such as the work of technicians whose creativity and expertise was so uniquely matched by the instructional initiatives of Dr. Rose Mukerji and other educators. And finally, there’s the subsequent programming put out by NIT over the next several decades that outght to be considered in relation to Ripples, with it having been one of the riskier and more ambitious endeavors to improve educational media at that time. The Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive invites researchers interested in questions like these or other matters related to the history of television, education, multimedia technology, curriculum development for young learners, film and television production, media industries and institutions, and more to contact us and make an appointment to explore the AIT collection and others.