A challenge all educators face is in determining whether the latest trending educational term will be a fleeting fad or a newfound best practice here to stay. Educational technologists, in particular, face this challenge on a regular basis as new trends often emphasize technology and innovation.
To aid in this near-daily struggle, the following three methods should help practitioners distill whether a new term is, in fact, here to stay. If a new term “passes” any of the measures described below, there is a reasonable chance that it could become a new paradigm for best practice.
This may seem intuitive; however, educators don’t often scour the news looking for long-term economic connections to trendy educational terms. Aside from the typical mainstream media sources, The Economist, Time Magazine, the Smithsonian Magazine, TED talks, and the Fast Company Magazine are particularly telling in determining the direction of the economy and industry. While educational policy should never be a slave to purely economic incentives, new trends occurring in sequence with changing macroeconomic norms may signal a pivot in educational emphases.
Example: Various news sources have indicated that the manufacturing industry is returning (or has already returned) geographically to North America since we have found ways to rapid prototype at lower costs. If a new trend like the “Maker Movement” emerges and seems to reflect regional industry shifts, there might be reason to believe that the new term will provide immediately valuable skills and receive due attention for the foreseeable future. Knowing how to design, create, prototype, and evaluate products are exactly the skills that the “Maker Movement” provides and, therefore, directly support the global industry shift.
Has this educational trend been implemented once (or more) before? If so, it would be useful to find out why it was phased out and why it has come back. By researching past iterations of a current trend, we can determine what about it might remain pertinent and whether students really do need the skill or knowledge base elicited.
Example: “Computer Science” in grade k-12 schools is a term that has resurfaced again but was once a discontinued subject (often just called “computer class” or “technology class”) taught in the late 1990s to early 2000s. Since many schools discontinued those courses in the 2000s, new research has shown they provided actual benefit in enabling students who learn to code also learn to problem solve, persevere, troubleshoot, and think linearly. In addition, “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that skills in computer science fields such as software development, cybersecurity and information technology are a critical component in more than 180 different types of industries.” With such a direct educational benefit and strong need in the labor market, it is clear why the concept of ‘computer classes’ have resurfaced and are likely here to stay.
Create a simple, low effort test for the latest educational trend in your classroom or educational setting. Follow up with a survey to determine the impact it had on your students. Additionally, invite a colleague to observe the test and provide feedback from a third party perspective.
Example: The idea of flipped learning could easily be tested in a classroom by creating a few video lessons for students and a follow up survey to determine how the lessons impacted student learning and engagement. After researching best practices to guide implementation, an educator could compare the efficacy of the flipped versus traditional classroom over a period of time to determine whether the new concept may hold lasting value.
It is easy to dismiss trendy jargon and continue teaching as if in Plato’s cave; however, for education to best serve students and meet the needs of a changing economy and labor market, we must carry out due diligence and determine whether these trends may have value. The three simple tests here described are a beneficial 30 minute starting point for accurately predicting whether educators are teaching by fad or by cutting edge best practice.