In Stages of Acceptance, Nick Falkner wrote
There’s a pretty standard set of responses, indicating the evolution of acceptance over time:
- It will never work.
- It may work but it won’t work here.
- Of course we should do that.
We see so much separation between the different communities of practice across the disciplines and, regrettably, it’s possible for teaching practitioners to be (effectively) at stage 1 when the educational researchers and designers are at stage 3.
I would posit that there is another series of responses to educational fads:
- It is great, everyone should do this.
- Maybe it doesn’t work that well in everybody’s hands.
- It was a terrible idea—no one should ever do that.
Think, for example, of the Gates Foundation’s attempt to make small high schools. They were initially very enthusiastic, then saw that it didn’t really work in a lot of the schools where they tried it, then they abandoned the idea as being completely useless and even counter-productive.
The difficult thing for practitioners is that the behavior of proponents in stage 1 of an educational fad is exactly the same as in Falkner’s third stage of acceptance. It is quite difficult to see whether a pedagogical method is robust, well-tested, and applicable to a particular course or unit—especially when so much of the information about any given method is hype from proponents. Educational experiments seem like a way to cut through the hype, but research results from educational experiments are often on insignificantly small samples, on very different courses from the one the practitioner needs to teach, and with all sorts of other confounding variables. Often the only way to determine whether a particular pedagogic technique works for a particular class is to try it and see, which requires a leap of faith, a high risk of failure, and (often) a large investment in developing new course materials.
Getting a new pedagogic technique to be widely adopted requires having enough initial plausibility for early adopters to experiment with the technique, big enough successes by the early adopters for them to continue to push the technique, development of course materials that later adopters can use without a huge time investment, and sufficient success by late adopters that the method doesn’t fade out. Some techniques have stuck around for a long time because they work relatively well for the effort expended (lecturing, for example), while others have a brief lifetime, either because they don’t work well, or they work, but only in the hands of exceptional teachers or only with extreme levels of effort.