Minimalist EdTech


It's popular among AI folks to think in terms of phases of AI, of which the current and most reachable target is likely “oracular AI”. Tools like ChatGPT are one manifestation of this, a form of question and answer system that can return answers that will soon seem superhuman in terms of breadth of content and flexibility of style. I suspect most educators don't think about this framework of AI as oracle much, but we should, because it explains a lot both about the current hype cycle around large language models and can help us gain critical footing with where to go next.


The garbage pile of generative "AI"

The generative “AI” hype cycle has been at peak hype for the past month or so and it follows completely predictable tech patterns. Hypers tout all the amazing miraculous things that will be possible; doubters wonder aloud whether these things will fail to deliver on their utopian promises (because these things always fall short of their utopian promises), and most of the obvious consequences and outcomes get overlooked.


human in the loop, made with DALL-E

Any new technology or tool, no matter how shiny its newness, can help students experiment with how technology mediates thought. I suspect that's the least problematic use of generative “AI” and large language models in the short term. One reason I think of this kind of activity as play or experimentation is that if you go much further with it, make it a habit, or take it for granted, then the whole enterprise becomes much more suspect. Most consumer-facing applications showing off large language models right now are variations of a human in the loop system. (ChatGPT exposes a particularly frictionless experience for interacting with the underlying language model.)

A key question for any human in the loop systems is that of agency. Who's the architect and who is the cog? For education in particular, it might seem that treating a tool like chatGPT as a catalyst for critical inquiry puts humans back in control. But I'm not sure that's the case. And I'm not sure it's always easy to tell the difference.


De-cluttered Pedagogy and Embodied Energy

Not minimalist

This BBC piece about the origins of the de-cluttered household caught my eye: It's a swift and effective overview of architectural minimalism and the cyclical waxing and waning of fashion for de-cluttered interiors. The pendulum has swung towards maximalism and eclecticism for a bit now and perhaps there are hints that is starting to swing back. I suspect the article presents too linear a summary, as there seem always holdouts that can linger on until suddenly becoming “in” again as the pendulum swings back. But this piece got me thinking about how much minimalism is cyclical in other areas outside its home base of architecture and design.