Fads, trends and robots taking over the world! 

This is a summary of the #eltchat held at 12noon BST on Wednesday 20th June, 2012.  The full title of the chat was:

 

‘The Next Big Thing – what is it?  Is ELT becoming a fad-driven profession?’
I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly inspired by this topic and I certainly didn’t vote for it, but, as often happens with #eltchat, as we got going, it turned out to be a fascinating discussion with lots of interesting and thought-provoking ideas being put forward.  It was expertly moderated, as usual, by @Marisa_C and @Shaunwilden.  This was particularly important on Wednesday as it was quite a confusing chat with several threads running simultaneously.  I’ll do my best to make some sense of it!!

Defining Terms

 

The discussion began with several of us opting to ‘lurk’, unsure as to what we were actually going to be talking about.  What exactly did we mean by ‘fad-driven’?  Indeed, what is a ‘fad’?
  • @cerirhiannon suggested that a fad is a new idea that quickly gathers a lot of followers, but questioned whether the word ‘fad’ implies a degree of mindless fashion-victim like behaviour, taking things on but not really thinking them through.
  • @GenkiSarah said that, for her, ‘fads’ are the things she leaves conferences excited about trying.
  • @theteacherjames said that, to him, the word ‘fad’ suggests ‘here today, gone tomorrow’, but wondered whether one person’s fad is another person’s innovation.  I agreed that it has a negative connotation.
  • @trylingual asked whether fads are all style and no substance.
  • @JoHart suggested that often an established pedagogic approach in another field is picked up by ELT, given a new name and becomes a fad.
So, if ‘fad’ is not the right word, what should we be using?  The concensus was that ‘trend’, ‘innovation’ or ‘fashion’ were preferable terms.

Recent & current fads (trends) in ELT

 

  • It was agreed that technology per se can no longer be considered to be a fad, but that tools within it can be.  @bcnpaul1 suggested that some stick and some don’t and that the ones that do tend to be those that encourage student-generated content.
  • @MellynEducation asked whether tweetchats, including #eltchat, could be a fad.  #Eltchat devotees quickly quashed this idea and insisted that we are here to stay!
  • Apps were put forward by @cerirhiannon.
  • Could @Shaunwilden’s dreaded d-word (aka dogme) be a fad?  Perhaps not, as it’s been around for some time!
  • Corpora, task-based learning, return to translation, extensive reading – all proposed by @michaelgriffin.  (The latter was disputed by @theteacherjames who felt there was too much evidence to consider it to be a fad.)
  • @Marisa_C suggested edtech, but as a trend, definitely not a ‘fad’!
  • Audiolingualism was suggested by @GenkiSarah, but others thought it had been around too long to be considered a fad.  As @trilingual pointed out, it is still being used in some teaching contexts with new technology being used as a vehicle for it.
  • @teacherphili said that he would put flipping under the ‘fad’ heading, leading to a discussion as to whether the flipped classroom was indeed a fad, an innovation or the ‘next big thing’.
  • mlearning put forward by @trylingual – an excuse for students to use their phones or genuine engagement?
  • @kevchanwow suggested grammar flooding where the teacher picks a grammar point and then gives loads of authentic input, something which many of us probably already do without giving the technique a name.
  • The Silent Way was put forward because, even though it has been around for over fifty years, it has recently attracted newproponents and has been given fresh credence in the classroom, although, as @JoHart pointed out, being silent is very difficult in today’s virtual classroom because students just think there’s a problem with the audio!!
  • Pecha Kucha suggested by @JoHart and seconded by @michaelgriffin as meeting all the criteria for ‘faddishness’.

And what might the ‘next big thing’ be?

  • @RoyaCaviglia suggested that it might be the introduction of interactive course tablets to replace coursebooks.  Indeed, several contributors thought that we might be heading towards a coursebook free classroom.  This idea is supported by the amount of work publishers are doing on online resources, including digital coursebooks which are editable by the user.
  • @ElkySmith asked whether it might be English Profile, a corpus-based description of what learners should and shouldn’t be able to do at different levels.  He suggested that it could have a big impact on what we teach, and when and how we teach it.
  • Self-directed learning via technology was put forward by @trylingual though @cioccas pointed out that she’s already been doing this for years!
  • @Marisa_C suggested that the study of how the brain functions and acquires language might change the way we teach, as put forward in Zull’s talk at IATEFL Glasgow 2012.
  • ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ blended courses were put forward by @fionamau.
  • Webinars were suggested by @BrunoELT as the ‘next big thing’ in PD, something I wholeheartedly agree with – in fact, I was taking part in a webinar shortly after #eltchat finished.  @bcnpaul1 went on to explain the use of webinars in the flipped classroom where they are viewed pre-class and then followed-up face-to-face in the lesson, offering input and freedom – the best of both worlds.
  • @harrisonmike suggested game-based language research and teaching.

  • @kevchanwow hoped that the ‘NBT’ might be valuing teachers, but realised that this was probably too radical an idea!
  • @michaelgriffin wondered if robot teachers might be the ‘next big thing’!  We hear that they might already be a reality in Korea!

Nominated for the ‘best tweet of the day award’, from @ij64:

NBT will be the iFad!

So is ELT ‘fad-driven’?

 

@esolcourses suggested that teaching has always been driven by ‘the next big thing’ to some extent. @bcnpaul1 agreed, but felt that this was no bad thing as it moves things on, to which @esolcourses responded by saying that sometimes we just go round in circles! @bcnpaul1 agreed, but argued that the circle gets it a bit more experienced each time it goes round!
Several of us pointed out that, because things move so quickly in our profession, we are still trying to catch up and learn about ten year old ‘fads’!
‘Fad-driven’ or not, I pointed out that it’s human nature to be curious about developments in your professional field and that we pick and choose the best of them to use in our teaching context. As @trilingual reminded us, we are an outward and forward looking profession, always seeking new and effective ways to teach. The key is to find and use a combination of all the best things out there, which, as @bcnpaul1 said, is what good teachers do!

Potential problems arising from being ‘fad-driven’

As pointed out by @bcnpaul1, one of the main problems is that the ‘next big thing’ often mocks what came before, even though what came before is still valid in the present.  There’s a danger that we throw the baby out with the bath water (@cerirhiannon).  In the constant quest for the ‘next big thing’ we sometimes dismiss tried and tested techniques as being ‘old hat’ which I think is a shame.

Finally

I’ll give the last words to @kevchanwow who said, ‘I think we need to keep ourselves fresh.  The teacher must be the number one learner in the room and that means trying out new things’, and to @JoHart who said, ‘we should always embrace the possibility of the new, but we need to be discriminating and use what our professional judgement says works for a specific group’.

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About the Author

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In her own words” “I am an EFL teacher and world traveller, currently living in Binh Duong, Vietnam, having recently completed two years in Treviso, Italy. Together with my husband, Mark, I try to enjoy every single day.”