My husband recently had a conversation with some people in the field of education. After which, he reported to me that the conversation was so full of jargon that he didn’t understand half of what they were saying. And I laughed. Welcome, I said, to what we commonly refer to as “eduspeak.”
It’s actually less jargon, in my opinion, and more like slang—because like slang it goes in and out of fashion. Like slang, it consists of made up words or existing words that are given new meaning. For example, in the time I’ve been teaching, we have tried to teach our students to achieve certain objectives. Later, those objectives were called competencies. Later still, we had to start using the term outcomes. And then, suddenly, we were back to competencies. Then, of course, there are deliverables—although this term seems to be reserved for usage only with ourselves as opposed to with students. All of these words mean basically the same thing: they’re goals. The appropriate choice of word is completely dependent upon what’s popular at the time—which basically makes it slang. In another ten years, we’ll be using some trendy new word to talk about the exact same thing. Just the other day, someone in one of my LinkedIn groups was talking about the flipped classroom—this is very popular nowadays. One of my colleagues chimed into the discussion: “So…you’re really just talking about what we used to call student-centered education, right?” Yeah, basically—it’s all the same techniques—but now it has a trendy new name. Ugh.
But eduspeak is also what we call (and teach our students to avoid) pretentious language. Eduspeak terms are often multi-syllable words, and they are often used in order to make one sound smarter or more like an expert. Right now, matriculation is making me itch. I said to my husband one day, “I have a presentation to the Matriculation Committee.” He understandably replied, “What is matriculation?” Me: “a fancy word for admission and enrollment.” One of my favorites, which I’ve heard in the last few years is dyadic learning. Example: The dyadic alternative to instruction is a non-traditional, upside-down, learning model including both formative and summative assessments. Seriously? As I teach my students, don’t use a $50 word where a nickel one will do. Dyadic learning? We’ve been doing it for years—it’s called working in pairs. Calling it dyadic learning doesn’t make it any better or different. It sort of just makes you sound like you’re trying desperately to make yourself sound smarter—or purposely trying to confuse people. This is the same thing I explain to my students when they try to use the thesaurus to come up with bigger, smarter-sounding words. Most of the time, such usage of language only obscures the meaning of your message, which makes you not smarter but an ineffective communicator. Simplicity = clarity.
Don’t even get me started on acronyms. When people started running around spouting off about SLOs and CLOs and PLOs, I thought I would go nuts. If I see MOOC one more time, I might stab myself in the eye with my pencil. My husband pointed out that the people with whom he was talking kept mentioning a TAP test—as if an automotive expert would have any idea what a TAP test is. I was recently invited to a webinar: Join ELI and NGLC Breakthrough Model project representatives for this three-hour ELI Online Seminar, May 20. I’m not attending because I don’t know what those acronyms stand for, so I have no idea if it would be beneficial. On LinkedIn, I saw a woman requesting advice about a career path: Higher Education T&L or OD. I figure T&L = teaching and learning, but OD? Overdose? As in overdose of eduspeak perhaps? And the same people who string together all sorts of acronyms like this are baffled at the text-speak created by the younger generations: LOL, BRB, TTYL. Ha.
As I told my husband, most of us don’t understand what those people are really talking about—they line up so many eduspeak words (and/or acronyms) in a row that whatever they’re attempting to communicate is completely lost. And I firmly believe that at least 75% of the time, those people don’t actually know what they’re talking about either—they’re just spitting out fancy words they heard from someone else in order to make themselves sound like education experts. And the rest of us just keep nodding in agreement as if we know what they mean.