Minimalist EdTech


#introversion #introverted #minimalistedtech #edtechminimalism #zoom #edtech

In a physical classroom, some students are shouters, others are reserved, and all gradations in between. As teachers, we respond to that difference and the uniqueness of students in a variety of ways, ideally such that everyone has a voice and can join into the whole in a way that feels both comfortable and authentic.

Technology encodes values and edtech is no different. In too many ways, edtech today tends to encode and promote the particular ideals of extroversion, demanding that students act publicly, visibly, and loudly, as if this is the only way of doing things in the world.


A good friend of mine admitted that he was a pretty piss-poor teacher on zoom. He is, in the classroom, an excellent teacher, in no small part due to a charismatic persona which slides from serious to amused and from hard to soft with ease. It would be easy to imagine that he's just being tough on himself, but I think he's actually kind of right. He's not great on Zoom. Something about his instincts and his habits don't translate quite right and his inability to sense the physical cues of students distracts and frustrates him.

There is some sort of mismatch there or difficulty in translating teaching persona through the screen.


Alternatives to Surveillance Edtech: Students as Publishers

The case against surveillance edtech like Proctorio isn't really about privacy; in pedagogical terms, it's about automation and agency.


Not Artificial Intelligence, aka “AI”

The overuse of the term “AI” to market technology products has been out of control for some time. Educational technologies are no different. More and more I've been seeing “AI” products in edtech that are little more than slick visualizations wrapped around basic arithmetic.

Things that are not, by themselves or by default, “AI”:

  • simple and obvious things expressed as percentages, e.g. percentage of students participating in some activity
  • any graph and visualization that is not a line or bar chart
  • numbers
  • huge dashboards full of numbers
  • huge dashboards full of numbers with fancy labels of the form “Engagement Score” or “[StupidTradmarkedName] Score”™

Make it stop. Seriously, machine learning, deep learning and everything that might legitimately be called “AI” are interesting and awesome and powerful, problematic and potentially biased and also full of possibility. All of that is worth talking about and fair game to market as some branch of artificial intelligence; but selling elementary math and week 1 of Intro to Statistics as AI is just ridiculous.

#edtech #AI #edtechrant

I've been thinking recently about the concept of “friction” in technology. It's an oft-stated goal of technology. I think that phantom of frictionless technology is a problem and we should make more use of technological friction to our advantage.

I also think we should consider adding friction points in edtech. For our own good and for the benefit of our students. Here's what I mean...


Replaces: Classroom response systems; class attendance sheet Advantages: cheap, portable, tangible, paper trail, semi-computational Disadvantages: requires writing instruments, must decipher student handwriting, potential germ substrate


Recently I had the chance to see one of Class for Zoom's demos of their new product. The platform delivers what they promise, an education-focused version of Zoom for both remote and hybrid teaching. They are in the sales phase and it was a polished pitch. One thing left me particularly uneasy...


As it is nearly midterm season, a student asked the other day whether we were going to have a midterm. This tends to be a question from a corner of the Zoom that is a bit... er, clueless. It was in my pitch for the course at the beginning of the term: no midterms, no final. I get applause for that. They do the wave. They profess affection and my immortal glory. (The trade-off is they have to do a fair amount of writing and speaking.)

So, maybe a question that makes me wonder whether anything I've said is being heard out there, but good to reaffirm the plan anyway. No midterm.

I went on to say that I didn't have any high stakes assessments because I didn't think they could be done well remotely. Or, rather, there were more effective uses of our time. And, I added, I also didn't think it was ethical to ask students to install spyware on their computer simply to monitor whether they are taking a test without cheating.


How much of what we feed into an LMS consists of just text and links?

If you're at all like me, you've tried a lot of different ways to deliver content to students online: all the major LMS-es, shared text files (google docs, overleaf, draftin, etc.), github repositories, shared folders, my own server, static sites with hugo and jekyll. The list goes on. But right now I'm really growing fond of It's clean, quick, and offers a lot of advantages for teachers, particularly in higher ed.