Fad, Fashion, and the Weak Role of Theory and Research in Information Technology in Education

By Maddux, Cleborne; Cummings, Rhoda | Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Fad, Fashion, and the Weak Role of Theory and Research in Information Technology in Education


Maddux, Cleborne, Cummings, Rhoda, Journal of Technology and Teacher Education


Fads are a serious problem in education. Fads are destructive because they are quickly abandoned, and therefore, some promising innovations are dismissed before they have been given a fair trial. Innovations become fads partly because there is a tendency for teachers and policy-makers to ignore educational research. This occurs because the education profession has no efficient mechanisms for translation of research findings into practice; teacher education programs have not been successful in convincing teachers of the practical importance of research; many teacher educators lack expertise in, and fail to value, research; much existing educational research is of poor quality; and the debate between advocates of quantitative and qualitative research has diverted attention from performing and publishing excellent research of either kind. More importantly, an innovation may take on fad status because it lacks a logical connection to theory, or because advocates fail to clearly communicate the connections between a particular innovation and its theoretical foundations. Some possible solutions to the problem of fads in education are discussed.

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Fad and fashion are facts of professional life in most disciplines. However, education has always been particularly susceptible to short-lived, fashionable movements that come suddenly into vogue, generate brief but intense enthusiasm and optimism, and fall quickly into disrepute and abandonment. More than 20 years ago, Benjamin Bloom (1981) made reference to this problem:

    The libraries and basements of our schools still store the forgotten
    relics of fads and nostrums which were purchased because they
    promised to solve our educational problems. In education, we
    continue to be seduced by the equivalent of snake-oil remedies, fake
    cancer cures, perpetual-motion contraptions, and old wives' tales.
    (p. 15)

More than a decade later, Haswell (1992) argued that widespread and repeated adoption of faddish practices is the cause of the general lack of systematic progress in education. Recently, Masters (2002) has suggested this phenomenon continues, and that education today can be said to "lurch from one fad to the next" (p. 1). Holland (2002) concurred, and points out that education has always been "notorious for flitting from fad to fad" (p. 1).

FADS AND THE PENDULUM SYNDROME

The result is a repetitive and destructive cycle that has been termed the "pendulum syndrome" (Maddux, 1986). This phenomenon begins with unrealistically optimistic claims and expectations for each emerging educational innovation followed by too-hasty, wide adoption in schools. Inevitably, the innovation fails to live up to the initial, over-inflated expectations, resulting in disillusionment by teachers, parents, and policy-makers. This causes premature abandonment of the innovation before it receives either a fair field trial or formal research validation. Since initial expectations are so impossibly positive, innovations are abandoned one after the other, even though some are moderately successful and/or highly promising. The cycle then begins anew with the next fashionable innovation.

SOME PAST AND PRESENT EDUCATIONAL FADS

Practicing educators from every educational arena are well aware of the faddish and cyclical nature of their profession, because we have all witnessed the consequent birth and demise of a host of educational innovations. Only a few of these in general education include programmed learning, teaching machines, controlled readers and other "reading machines," reality therapy, assertive discipline, new mathematics, new grammar, open education, the "back to basics" movement, outcome-based education, the Madeline Hunter model, and right brain/left brain instruction. The syndrome has also claimed its share of casualties in the field of special education. A few of the better-known ones include balance beams to treat learning disabilities, colored lenses or plastic overlays to treat reading problems, eye movement therapy, the nonstimulating environment, and facilitated communication. …

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