Lake Okoboji Conference

The first Lake Okoboji Audio-Visual Leadership Conference was held in 1955 at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory at Lake Okoboji in Milford, Iowa. It was a five-day invitational conference for leaders and potential leaders in the field. Each conference was devoted to a specific theme, which provided the basis for concentrated small-group and large-group discussions and reports. 

The idea for the conference came from the staff of the Extension Division of the State University of Iowa (later, University of Iowa), and was championed by Lee Cochran as a DAVI board member and president (1953-1955). Cochran became the chairman of the steering committee that guided the conference year-round, and he continued in that role for twenty years. Funding of the conference was provided by the university with the assistance of a grant from Teaching Films Custodians, Inc., from funds earned through the distribution of films made available by the member companies of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. 

The Lakeside Laboratory provided an isolated setting, away from normal work distractions, and this enclosed, camp-like setting contributed to a special sense of camaraderie, which evolved into "the Okoboji process,” an almost mythic organizational culture that was handed down from one conference to the next. Each conference ended with a vote on whether to hold another one and a selection of a core number of delegates for the following year. The remaining delegates were chosen by the DAVI executive committee, drawn from lists of nominees sent in by the presidents of each of the state affiliates. 

The meetings, renamed the Okoboji Educational Media Leadership Conference in the 1960s, continued annually until the end of the 1970s. After 1975, management of the conference was taken over by William B. Oglesby, Cochran’s successor as director of the audiovisual center at University of Iowa. Lee Cochran, the "father” of the conference, died June 15, 1979. The last conference, the 25th, was held in August 1979.

Intellectual Forum 

Okoboji conferences often featured a keynote speaker, who provided grist for the following discussions. One of the most influential keynote addresses was the first, "A Systems Approach to Audio-Visual Communication,” given by Charles F. Hoban at the 1956 conference. The keynote address and the conference discussion coincided with a series of articles by James D. Finn of University of Southern California published around the same time. Together, they helped create momentum behind the idea of the systems approach, which eventually became the trademark of the field. 

Programmed instruction was introduced at the 1962 meeting by the co-author of the first renowned programmed textbook, James G. Holland, Harvard University, with his presentation, "Programed Learning and Self-Learning Procedures.” By the middle of the 1960s programmed instruction had become the fastest growing segment of the instructional technology enterprise. 

The 1963 meeting, similarly, was devoted to learning theory. Two of the three keynote speakers—Wesley C. Meierhenry, University of Nebraska, and Israel Goldiamond, Institute of Behavioral Research—focused on the application of behaviorism to instructional development. The third, Donald Snygg, New York State College, Oswego, on the other hand, issued a prophetic warning:

S-R theory is particularly unsuited to the needs of audiovisual education because it assumes that all learning requires the learner to make a response. The reasoning is that if he doesn’t make a response it cannot be reinforced and if it isn’t reinforced, it will not be learned. If this were literally true most of our films, tapes, TV, radio, charts, graphs and display materials would go out the window; nothing would be left but the language lab and the learning machines.


At each conference the delegates worked toward the completion of a Summary Report. The summary reports were distributed to the participants and to the association’s headquarters office. The ideas explored in these reports frequently surfaced as themes in larger publications and as action programs of the association. 

The summary reports for the first ten conferences were edited and published in monograph form:

Allen, William H. (ed.) 1960. Audio-Visual Leadership. A Summary of the Lake Okoboji Audio-Visual

Leadership Conferences 1955-1959. Iowa City, IA: Extension Division, State University of Iowa

Noel, Francis W. and Noel, Elizabeth S. (ed’s). 1965. Audiovisual Leadership. A

Summary of the Lake Okoboji Audiovisual Leadership Conferences 1960-1964. Iowa City, IA: Division of Extension and University Services, University of Iowa

And a twenty year review was published:

Okoboji - A Twenty Year Review of Leadership, 1955-1974. 1977. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt

Leadership Development Success 

Not only did the conferences promote wider discussion and dissemination of emerging issues in the field, but also accomplished the "process” goal of fostering the leadership capabilities of up-and-coming participants. Okoboji conferences provided national "networking” opportunities for members who had become active at the state level. The working-groups process immersed participants in a forum for lively discussion and in a problem-solving process that they could adapt to their future work. A common sentiment was expressed by a 1971 participant: "I have never worked harder in such a short time, nor have I ever come away from an experience with such feelings of satisfaction and achievement.”¹ 

A 1971 study of the political life of AECT showed that participation in Okoboji was one of the prominent gateways for upward movement in the political ranks of the association. Of all members who had run for national office, 78% had attended the Okoboji conference². 

¹ "Lake Okoboji Educational Media Leadership Conference,” Audiovisual Instruction, December 1971, p. 81. 
² Molenda, M.H. (1971). The relationship of sociodemographic characteristics and opinions to political participation in a professional association. Unpublished doctoral 
dissertation. Syracuse NY: Syracuse University, p. 91.
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