Buzz words in education: what do they mean?

If you’ve been reading any education blogs and tweets lately, you will no doubt have encountered these buzz words, but what do they mean? Here is a (very quick) guide.

What’s an infographic, for instance?  Essentially, this is a visual summary of an issue, a process or an idea.  They’re popular because of their ability to summarise concisely, but also because they tap into the fact that we know many people are visual learners and prefer their information delivered to them in this form.  Some teachers are not only presenting information like this, but they’re also encouraging their students to use infographics to present their own ideas and information. When the latter happens, they work like graphic organisers and reveal the extent of the student’s  understanding to both the student herself, and to her teacher. Have a look at this (rather detailed) infographic on education in Australia, produced by Edudemic.

Gamification is another buzz word.  It refers to the process of using the elements of games – badges and rewards, a quest, an avatar etc – in curriculum areas as diverse as English, Maths, Humanities and Science.  Essentially gamification is a way of engaging and motivating students, but is also seen to have benefits in terms of strategising and problem-solving.  Gamification needs to be linked to learning intentions in order to be an effective learning tool, and the learning involved in the ‘game’ should be transparent for students if it is to be transferred to other contexts.

Personalised learning is a term that has been around for a while, but seems to be getting increased attention of late. It is a pedagogy that focuses on individual needs, abilities and interests, and shapes the curriculum accordingly to facilitate individual learning. Individual students might have a personalised learning plan, which specifies goals and strategies to be used to achieve them. Personalised learning is closely allied to differentiation which sees teachers planning and using different pedagogies for different groups or individuals.  The teacher might also vary the resources and the assessment activities in order to cater for a range of abilities in her classroom.

Back-channelling occurs when students are engaged in one activity (for example, watching a video or a presentation) and are, at the same time, sharing their thoughts, impressions and questions about that activity with others – via a program such as TodaysMeet.  It’s all pretty exciting!  Check it out here.

BYOD is the acronym that stands for Bring Your Own Device.  Born perhaps out of economic necessity and dressed up later, this is the practice of students bringing their own laptop or, more likely, ipad or tablet or smartphone, to school.  Instead, that is, of the school providing such devices. The practice has some strong advocates.

MOOC is another acronym.  This one stands for Massive Open Online Courses.  MOOCs provide access to free university (and other) courses to an extent hitherto unimagined.  They represent an access to education for many who would otherwise be excluded.  They do not, however, result in a diploma or degree, and recent comments have focussed on the huge numbers of students who drop out, compared with the huge numbers who sign up.

The flipped classroom is one in which, essentially, the delivery of content occurs at home instead of at school.  The teacher prepares a video lecture, for example, and the students watch it at home. Then, in the classroom, the students apply their learning and the teacher – so the argument goes – has increased time to attend to individual needs. This practice is gaining popularity in some parts of the US, although it’s not without its problems:  questions of equity, for example, in terms of the technology that students have access to at home, and the age-old problem of getting students to do the homework.

Social and emotional learning stems from the recognition that if students are not happy, not coping with life in general, then it’s very difficult for learning to occur.  Many schools are teaching social and emotional skills, both separately, via specific programs, and incorporated into the usual curriculum. Their aim is to equip students with a sense of wellbeing that fosters engagement and understanding of themselves and others.

What other buzz words are worth knowing about?

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