Do these “edubabble” terms have meaning or are they just empty rhetoric?

Get a group of educators together either online or in person and at times it can seem like they’re speaking a different dialect. Want to disrupt the fixed mindset and combat the device gap in the age of the digital native? Well, have you tried innovating your hidden curriculum? Just add more grit (or should that be rigor?). And do it all like a pirate. No, wait: a rockstar.

At best, ed-tech buzzwords can serve as a sort of shorthand when conversing with like minds to quickly touch on relevant, universally-understood phenomena, perhaps with an eye toward saving precious Twitter characters to add additional insight. At worst, as one blogger put it, edubabble is “an act of unconscionable self-indulgence.”

Moreover, in fitting with language’s protean nature, shiny new terms are likely to elude a single, fixed definition, making them even more incomprehensible to outsiders, or even other insiders. To educator Mark Johnson, in a recent blog post, it recalled the scene in Lewis Caroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” where Humpty Dumpty misuses the word “glory” in triumph at having successfully explained the concept of birthdays and un-birthdays to Alice.

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

Two years ago we took a look at the biggest buzzwords circling around the ed-tech world (see 20 education buzzwords and phrases). Since then, a few of those terms have fallen into disuse (or, worse, become passé) and new ones have entered the lexicon. Terms that made the last list weren’t repeated, so the following is our updated — authentic, value-added — list of the most popular buzzwords, jargon, edubabble and everything in between.

Grit

Popularized by scholar Angela Duckworth, grit is something of a modern day rebrand of the millennia-old heavenly virtue of diligence. Students need to look beyond passing a class and start to invest in long-term learning goals that interest them. Grit is a popular concept these days and it’s been bolstered by books, a section in a recent Carnegie Foundation report, and splashy articles in media outlets like the Atlantic and the Washington Post, but even Duckworth is pulling back, worried that she may be making converts that are too-zealous and warning that the concept cannot truly be measured for accountability purposes.

Rigor

The gist of rigor in an educational context seems to be that kids rise to expectations, and if you set them high, while giving them enough support, they will perform at a higher level. Perhaps owing to the fact that its dictionary definition is different than its educational definition, it’s a term that can lead to confusion. When some educators hear the term they think it means presenting lessons that are “more harder.” But authors Barbara R. Blackburn and Cris Tovani, who have both written about rigor, contend that teachers need to be flexible in their approach and tailor it on a class-by-class or student-by-student basis.

Mindset

Another scholarly concept that got its start as a book, Carol Dweck’s “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success has been held up as exemplary practice by schools everywhere. To Dweck, and her legion of fans, you can either have a fixed mindset (the belief that traits, such as intelligence and ability are pre-set and unlikely to change given time and effort) or a growth mindset (the belief that a lack of natural ability can be overcome through hard work). The problem, as schools realize when they move toward adopting growth mindset practices, is that the growth mindset is often at odds with traditional classroom pacing, assessment, and feedback. It can be tough, for example, for a student to shed a fixed mindset when the prospect of an F looms over a course.

Next page: Teaching like a pirate and more edubabble

The ___ Gap

Equity, learning, achievement, device, vocabulary. “Gap” all but invites educators to fill in the blanks. Most often it comes down to the timeless struggle between haves and have-nots and how education is—or isn’t—compensating appropriately.

Authentic learning

The concept of “authentic” learning is nothing new, but much like suede and tartan the term drifts in and out of fashion. These days it can refer to experiences that encourage students to put down their books and get a taste of the real world (perhaps via a trendy genius hour or 20 percent time). But it can also be one more adjective piled in a string of buzzwords to lend a veneer of change to practices that aren’t much different than what was done before.

Student voice and choice

Increasing student agency has been on educator’s minds for a while now. Letting students decide how to go about tackling a problem or learning a concept ties into a number of education philosophies from UDL to rigor and grit, which all require teachers to give up some control to students and use approaches that students favor, even if they’re out of the teacher’s comfort zone. Plus, it rhymes.

Maker

Every educator queried for this article mentioned some form of maker or makerspace as a must-include. And why not? Making and hands-on learning are certainly buzzworthy enough, garnering a White House-approved week of celebration and rocketing out of nowhere into the Horizon Report’s list of almost-mainstream trends. But it can be a fuzzy, overly-broad term to describe basically anything that students create, from coding simple apps to building robots out of cardboard or custom Lego creations. Like with any educational concept, thoughtfulness is key. Are schools making simply for the sake of making?

Personalized/adaptive

For some it can be hard to tell these terms apart. Personalized learning, which is kind of the umbrella term, means an instruction approach that takes individual student needs, interests, and potential learning difficulties to customize the course for that particular student. Adaptive learning primarily uses technology such as software to benchmark where a student is, and then adjust the material, pace, or presentation to suit the learner. True adaptive learning, however, is more than just making quiz questions easier if a student starts to pick wrong answers. It looks at why the student got the answer wrong and puts them on a path to figuring out how to correct those mistakes.

preneur

A suffix that can be portmanteau’d with virtually any education-related noun from teacher to student to passion, it’s essentially a buzzword defined entirely by other buzzwords. The term has come to mean less about getting people to make money or start businesses (the traditional meaning of entrepreneur), and more about innovation, risk-taking, leadership, and planning for the long-term (aka, grit).

Future ready

Talk about top-down, this one came straight from the White House itself. And while it’s still used to refer to the Future Ready pledge, more recently educators have begun using (or overusing) it to refer to the ideas espoused in that pledge, namely how to get their schools ready to deal with an onslaught of device, infrastructure, and privacy concerns.

Teach like a Pirate/Rockstar/Ninja…

The cynic might note how many terms on this list have skyrocketed in popularity thanks to the catchy titles of popular books or workshop series. Nowhere is that marketing gimmick more apparent than the “Teach like a …” phenomena, which are basically selling new ways of thinking about technology and the teacher’s role in the classroom. While that in itself isn’t a bad thing and while there’s nothing wrong with a gimmick — you could argue hashtag-friendly “edubabble” is gimmicky itself — devoid of context, words like “rockstar” and “ninja” are empty calories that sound more like a who’s who of fourth-grade Halloween costumes than a strategy to inspire students to take a greater interest in their own learning.

Bonus: It’s not about the technology

Well, it’s not.

About the Author:

Stephen Noonoo

Stephen Noonoo is a former editor of eSchool News. He has served as a consultant for CUE, California’s ISTE affiliate, and as managing editor of its quarterly publication, OnCUE. He has worked as a freelance writer, an education editor for SmartBrief newsletters, and as a staff editor for a well-known publication focusing on education technology.