kitchen table math, the sequel: The Museum of Educational Fads

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Museum of Educational Fads

Have stumbled upon a 5-star resource for edu-drollery: Chronicle Forums.

The Forums are so droll that I have just spent half an hour reading the entire Museum of Educational Fads thread. It was time well spent.

opening gambit:

My wife was a classroom teacher and I work a lot with teachers. Every single year there is some new nonsense, with a catchy title and some sketchy research and snake oil salesperson with an EdD and a sales pitch.

Fad might not be the right word, these things are an industry. There is a book, an inspiring talk (given for free at educational conferences or for $5-20,000 at school districts), a workshop, licensed workshop facilitators, pricey workbooks, assessment plans, etc. Superintendents and curriculum specialists hear the talk at an educational conference then come home and make everyone jump on the new fad for a year or two.

Anyway, I thought we could do a thread on this topic. What other silly educational fads have come our way over the years?

Reply #8:
The fad du jour on my campus that is currently driving me crazy is the use of classroom clickers, explained here. While proponents claim they can be used to take the "pulse" of a classroom and to quickly assess student learning, I simply am not persuaded by all the buzz. I see it as a lazy form of assessment and an excuse for large class sizes.

Reply #14:
Writing across the curriculum gave me headaches.

We've gone to the clickers all over campus. Many times they are used to take attendance, and students can get participation credit for answering questions. They were being tested the one semester I used them. I don't know how widespread they are now.

Reply #20:
Powerpoint. I mean, I am not opposed to it in principle, but I am opposed to requiring it in principle. I have at various times been evaluated poorly for not using Powerpoint. Since I do use Powerpoint, but judiciously, it is invariably at the schools that put me in a 8am class without a computer or visual system that I am criticised for not using Powerpoint.

Blackboard--in classroom-based courses. Again, I am not opposed to Blackboard; in fact, about 1/3 of my teaching is online. But I do not see the point in requiring all classes to have a Blackboard site in addition to regularly meeting. Sometimes it works, but not always.

I guess that I am opposed to any pedagogical tool--technological or methodological--being seen as THE way to teach. A good teacher is conversant in various methods and techniques, and can draw upon them depending on the particular class and the particular group of students.

It is also useful for students to be able to adapt to different teaching methods, since THE REAL WORLD (aka work) is also a mishmash of styles. (I supposes management fads are as annoying as teaching fads, though.)

Reply #26:
On the first day of my college physics, which was a large lecture course, my professor passed out two pieces of paper to each of us. One was bright green, the other bright red. We were expected to bring them to class with us. If he covered a particularly difficult topic, he would ask us if we were understanding, telling us to hold up the green paper if we understood, the red if we did not. Sometimes he had us vote/pick between two possible answers the same way.

Clickers are pretty much the same thing, but far more expensive. Oh, and they can take attendance, which the paper could not.

Reply #27:
I am going to bring a remote control to my next class. When a student misbehaves I will point it at him and click the buttons.

Reply #31:
My university keeps saying they want more classroom technology, but my proposal for training collars has not been funded despite my explaining that it's a gentle, effective correction.

Reply #33:
I attended an audio conference last week (did anyone else "go" to the Liberal Education for Everyone audio conference last Thursday?) that emphasized "knowledge economy," "high impact practice" and "global competence." I was relieved that no one said anything about "best practices," a term that means whatever the speaker says it means based on her professed expertise.

Apparently we're supposed to be providing students with a well-rounded education. Who would have thought this to be true?

Reply #61:
I absolutely agree with you. I hate the idea from some that "technology in the classroom" = Powerpoint.

And add me to another hater of "learning outcomes" and the assessment craze. I thought I "assessed student learning" whenever I gave an exam. Silly, Evil, no sharks for you.

Reply #75:
How about:

(1) Inventive spelling (formerly known as "misspelling")?

(2) Rubrics? Templates? Ed.D.s (at least the ones I must deal with) often forget that content-area knowledge transcends formats and other surface characteristics. As a result, they want things standardized in the classroom (through rubrics, templates, formats, and so on). Yet, for some reason, they are the first ones to complain about standardized testing... Odd.

Reply #77:
My current gig is rife with rubrics and templates for scoring assignments. The students have gotten so used to them that there is a great cry of despair if profs don't use them. And since my institution is all about "serving the customers" and keeping enrollment high (and I'm untenured), I have sucked it up and started using them. Rubrics DO cut out most of the grade whining at least. However, the cost (critical thinking) is high.

Reply 83#:
Wow, I am sort of proud that my small part in the original exchange has led to this outpouring of invective (I mean, criticism) of bu11$it edu-fads. What's fascinating about all these is the extent to which the cr@p that passes for pedagogical theory-to-practice in the K-12 world has infected (with no obvious cure) higher education as well. This thread is fascinating.

I suppose we should "take ownership" (arghhh) of our own pathologies as well--Powerpoint overuse, the very idea of Blackboard in "traditional classes" (Bb does nothing I can't do with an HTML editor and an FTP client), various forms of "literacy," etc.

But for those of us who are blessed with not having to live in close proximity to yet another Ed.D., I think we spend more time undoing the harm done by faddism in the K-12, and particularly 9-12, system than we do with the nonsense that every once in a while grabs some assistant dean's attention. I constantly have to get students to stop "writing colorfully" (because they don't know what the "colorful" words mean), writing five paragraph essays (even if the essay is 15 pp long), confusing the notion of opinion or even dogma with theory, etc. etc.

The ultimate insult (and we return to the thread from which this thread branched) is that all these Ed.D.s with their 50 page, atheoretical, nonempirical, entirely normative "dissertations" or "theses" are running around telling us how to teach--and some on this forum have been teaching longer than these edubureaucrats have been alive. And they make us call them "Doctor." (Insert derisive laughter here.)

Of course, as a social scientist I am more fascinated than appalled by this--some very interesting ideas here on the diffusion of innovations (even stupid ones, like the yearly edufad or the DARE program), on the social construction of the subjects and objects of learning, and on notions of authority (who knows more about teaching? Ed.Ds? Or people who actually teach?). Fortunately, I have the luxury of working at an R1 where the bu11sh!t is dispensed in wholesale quantities from the "teaching and learning" experts, but where we can simply rewrite, as others have noted, our syllabi as a compliance exercise. I really feel for our colleagues at SLACs and CCs who actually have to pretend to take this nonsense seriously.

Reply #92:
Learning styles. Multiple intelligences. The ideas themselves might have a smidgen of utility--though both strike me as edubabble academese for "talent" or "knack"--but some fool leaked them to students, who quickly turned the concepts into excuses.

Student: "But Mr. Eumaios, I'm an auditory learner."
Translation: "I didn't do the reading and I'm not going to do the reading because I don't like reading. Now, are you going to excuse me from all reading or do I have to run crying to the department head?"

Peer editing in composition class. It's ineptitude critiquing incompetence.

Reply #97:
Many campuses now have a thing called the center for teaching and learning. Think about that. Someone decided that there would be a "teaching center" on campus (in grad school, ours basically doled out the projectors and vcrs). Then someone else said, "It's not just about teaching! It's about teaching . . . and learning!" Another group of people decided that this was a brilliant insight and so a center was born. And after that came workshops.

What drives educational fads? That's like asking "What motivates those space monsters in Alien?" You don't need to understand the motivation. Just destroy the eggs before they hatch.

Reply #131:
[from Mandy] Disclaimer: As I have stated previously, I don't hate Education Schools/Departments. I only hate people with Ph.D.s/Ed.D.s. in Education. To continue our earlier discussion on education people and their "research..."

I have been reading an Ed.D. dissertation in science ed (I am an external reader). Here are some of the errors in her dissertation:

a. She wrote "research proves that..." many times (e.g., "Research proves that girls are as smart as, if not smarter than, boys"). Ouch! Intro to Research Methods (undergrad), please!

b. Better yet, for many monumental issues, she doesn't even bother to say "research proves" them. She simply says, "eveyone knows that..." (e.g., "Everyone knows that we can be whatever we want to be.")

c. She actually cites the (English-language) dictionary in defining some relevant terms (e.g., reinforcement; sexism; and stereotypes).

d. Her "research" was her own friggin autobiography. I looked really hard to make sure that I wasn't missing her method/data/data analyses/results sections, but she is getting her doctorate by telling us about her own tough-luck story as a girl who has been interested in science.

Personally, I blame her advisor because he should realize that this paper would be questionable, even as an undergrad thesis, and there is no research involved whatsoever. However, there must also be something about the field itself because I don't encounter such papers in other fields. This was 50 pages of nonsense, and I cannot, in good conscience, pass her...

Reply #132:
Wait a minute...this is a dissertation?!?!?!!

I dropped out of grad school, and therefore will not be able to earn a PhD in my chosen field, because I ran afoul problems with my research and ran out of money to keep forking over to my university for tuition. And this fool will be awarded a terminal degree?!?!!?!? For this crap?!?!?!?

Now I'm really depressed.

Reply #143:
I earn a few bucks on the side editing dissertations for an Education department. Much of that is working with Ed.D dissertations. Mandy is spot on, and, I'm afraid, her example isn't even that bad. Many of the dissertations I read show no knowledge of APA formatting (and I'm talking about proper in-text citations, nothing "complicated"). The majority of the work I proof wouldn't pass muster in my undergrad research writing English course, let alone a master's or doctorate program.

Reply #162:
...I am asked to serve as an outside reader for the ed grad program and they always bring me in AFTER the topic has been chosen and method (if you can call it that) has been decided. The work is inevitably sub-standard and I end up on the short end of a lot of 2-1 and 3-1 votes. I am not sure why I still do agree to be on these committees. If I thought my point would eventually sink in amongst those the ed school it might be worth it, but this is starting to feel like beating my head against a brick wall.

So, here is a fad to hate--who decided we should encourage K-12 administrators to get advanced degrees? I would guess 95% of my experiences with these committees is with returning students working in K-12 that want an advanced degree either for promotion and/or for more $$, NOT due to any significant level of intellectual curiosity.... and their work clearly reflects both aspects of why they are in the program.

Reply #165:
I don't think anyone will tell us that we have to use clickers. ("Dear Colleague: We have your children. For now, they are safe and well. Are you using the clickers yet?") Experience tells me to expect a lot of hoopla about improving student engagement by using the new gadget or technology, which engagement, the hoopla-spouters will assure us, cannot fail to improve learning, success, and retention (the hoopla-spouters cite evidence provided by the people who sold us the new gadgets or technology, because one can always rely on a saleman's claims); then some not-so-subtle hints that unchanged rates of success and retention shall be interpreted to mean that instructors are stubbornly choosing not to engage their students (because, you know, we like having silent, bored students almost as much as we enjoy entering F's in grade books); then attempts, some sincere and some perfunctory, to use the new gadget or technology to help students learn; then frustration and confusion as the new gadget or technology proves defective or unreliable; then more frustration and disillusionment as we compile evidence that the new gadget or technology has made no difference in the students' learning (and that students hate it, as anyone who actually asked the students has learned); then the abandonment, sometimes rapid and sometimes gradual, of the new gadget or technology, which joins its predecessors on the expensive and ever-growing pedagogical scrap heap in our little corner of academia; and then a brief respite before the next fanfare announcing the arrival of another new gadget or technology.

But maybe this time will be different. I cling to optimism. As Crosby, Stills, and Nash sing, "Rejoice, rejoice: We have no choice, but to carry on."

Reply #168:
If someone told me I had to use clickers, I would click like mad.

Reply #170:
You know, I'm really sick of all of the above crap. Part of the thing that's great about college is the idiosyncracy of professors. Different approaches to the same or different things. Different teaching styles. Some doubtlessly boring. Some engaging. Some mixed. Some good for one type of student; some for another.

Some people lecture well. Some use cooperative learning well. Some don't do either, but do something else well or poorly. Face it, we're professionals. Teaching is an individual, professional praxis, and we evaluate and change it based on our perceptions of how we're doing, not on whether someone else sees that we're using the latest bell or whistle.

I find the bureaucracies pushing this stuff extremely troubling. People on our campus, mainly young faculty, have bought into much of this crapola, and are actually the ones pushing it. I think that they're sincere. But it doesn't change my view that much of this stuff strikes against the root of professional college teaching. I heard one of these young happy-talky folks say that anyone who lectures is wasting the student's time.

Well, nonsense. As a student, I much preferred a good lecture to wasting 45 minutes on a single point, discussing in groups what the "medicalization of deviance," is, for example, then reporting to the larger group. You can get the picture in about five minutes in a lecture or from readings. Ask a few questions and have a general discussion. Discuss it with friends after class, too. That's what you should be doing as a student.

Part of the problem is, of course, (if there is in fact one) that we're letting non-college type students into college. Part of it is TV culture. I really don't care. I do a good job with the substandard students anyway, and I don't use any of the K-12 junk that's being foisted on us. My hunch is that K-12 shouldn't be using a lot of it. I suspect that any research that shows it "working" is pretty much due to the Hawthorne Effect anyway.

I have no idea if they're internalizing the standard bits in my classes. I teach some of them. The students take tests and pass them. Who cares? The students, I believe, are learning to think-- hopefully in non-standard ways unique to each student.

Reply #176:
I know of an education professor who gives talks at conferences seriously suggesting that instructors who favor lectures need to go through a 12-step group for lectureholics similar to AA. It's the most absurd thing I've ever heard.

While I do try to incorporate small group activities and discussion into my classes, I don't see anything wrong with lecturing as a teaching method, as long as it's done effectively. And I agree with OAP that it's more useful for imparting specific information to students than discussions or group work.

Reply #180:
Actually, now that I think about it, the forcing probably comes out of a need to justify the expense. If there are 10 faculty who really, really want clickers, the school probably has to show that the clickers can be used in 150 classes (for grants and whatnot), and once the students buy the clickers, they can only sell them back at 1/2 price so they will want to use the clickers in all their classes too.

I've seen the clickers turn profs evals around from "hate it" to love it" so they're not all bad. But like anything, I think the utility of clickers is discipline- and professor-specific.

Ding! Ding! Ding! And we have a winner!

I've also had enough of this garbage forced on me to know that if we ever go this way, then we'll all be using them, regardless of their pointlessness in a number of my classes. My syllabi and assignments already bear the scars of eduspeak; I don't to waste weekends trying to figure out how to fit clickers, for example, into my curriculum.

But hey, they could be used in a Classroom Gong Show. "That scene sucks. Next! CLICK!" That's pedagogically useful, no? So how do we balance clickers with the need to not crush the snowflakes' spirits? Do you get a blue ribbon or a "B" even when you do get clicked off stage?

Reply #181:
Actually, that's really funny because I often hear the clickers explained in game show terms i.e. it's like the audience voting on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."

Apparently, comparisons to "Love Connection" are outdated and/or gauche (silly me).

Reply 185:
In a few years we will be looking back at today's stress on "collaborative learning" as one of those fads.

Reply 186:
Yes, but we'll all look back together, because we learned the value of collaboration. And we'll learn from our collective looking back, just as we learned by collaborating to look ahead back when the past was still the future.

Reply #208:
Pro: People who study education seem to like them.

Con: People who educate hate them.

Reply #209:
I think the clickers should give the students little shocks when they get the wrong answers.

Reply #221:
Good one, lukeurig! Oh, I have a similar one... How about "learning by doing?"

Sure, that's great--for 2nd graders. But how about "learning by READING," "learning by THINKING," or "learning by PAYING ATTENTION," now that they are in college?

An advanced thinker should be able to learn without having a concrete, hands-on experience with everything. In other words, why does everything have to have real-life relevance in order for some students to comprehend simple concepts?

Reply #201:
I've already made a thread about this, but some students seem to think you can get partial credit for a math problem on an exam by writing down a bunch of nonsense and getting a made-up answer. [ed. note: students think this because in K-12 you can get partial credit for a math problem on an exam by writing down a bunch of nonsense and getting a made-up answer]

#27 is my favorite.

I may give it a go at the dinner table.

Classroom 'clickers' catching on as instant assessment tool


Mark Pennington said...

Check out this article on spelling trends and fads:

Mark Pennington said...

Your blog further inspired me. I borrowed your thread idea and your snake-oil comment and compiled my own list of educational fads.
Education is, by its very nature, experimental. We teachers are just as susceptible to snake-oil sales pitches, fads, and cultural pressures as any professionals. Check out for a list of educational fads over the last thirty years that will make you cringe, laugh, and add a bit of perspective. What goes around, comes around.

SteveH said...

Perspective is not the right word. Some of us parents are not quite so confused about which ones on your list are important and which ones are not. Differentiated instruction is a clear negative in our schools.

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