The MinimalEdTech Movement

Blogs are reflective thought pieces – a reaction to the world as I experience it. Maybe no one reads blogs anymore? But I choose to keep using it because this is the only blog like it on the entire ‘internet’. It’s a tiny speck swirling around the immeasurable junk culture of consumerism and relentless media messages.

What’s the minimalist movement got to do with school?

Minimalism isn’t new. In many ways, minimalism (to me) is part of the hipster generation’s obsession with an imagined past, which was both simpler and more meaningful that the one they have – and hate. There are many minimalist sites (and books) which of themselves are part of the media onslaught and super-cool image quest, but essentially, many of the books, blogs and stories are part of the hero’s journey that demands and creates – more media. I also think may of them ‘get that’ and let’s face it, if you also happen to have the media qualities needed to get noticed and promoted then you’re going to be both minimal and have adventures. But you get the point – it’s hard to be minimal in age, where to thrive and promote it, you have to play the game.

I like the minimalist ethos. It leaves room in life for fun and adventure.

Don’t confuse an active, informed decision to be a classroom EdTech minimalist with someone who can’t be bothered to investigate, try, explore and implement educational technology. Sadly, classrooms are full of teachers who have barely progressed beyond using Word Docs and Powerpoint – and from experience as a University teacher – there plenty of pre-teachers who are prosumers and will whine and moan if they are asked to go more than Word essays or, worse, asked to collaborate.

A decade on from the emergence of the read/write web, classrooms have a constellation of options (and prices), but that isn’t making teachers or students happy, confident or better according to the research (as meager as it is). Most research bangs on about ‘potential’ and fails to follow up on ‘implementation’. This is why we have so many prophets on Twitter talking utter EdTech rubbish – as academia has barely shown an interest in investigating their claims. At the heart of the problem are ‘senior’ management who have grown used to a very enjoyable lifestyle of playing with new toys, going to see classrooms with new toys, followed by a conference about more new toys and spend almost no time researching or teaching anything. When they get excited – in rolls a new toy (such as Pokemon Go) and a few weeks later, they get bored or seduced by something else (wait for the Holo Lens to arrive in 3, 2, 1 …) So let’s be honest … the last decade has allowed an unprecedented decadence by the higher-ups, who need a handful of teachers to agree with them and produce ‘heroic’ classrooms … which they believe to be either ‘reality’ or the version of reality the media has convinced them is achievable and useful.

So let’s not put this overclocking of classroom technology at the feet of teachers … this has been sponsored by the ideology of the system, which itself is locked into consumer competition over who has the most toys … with public and ‘alternate’ schools being at the bottom — and yet these are often the places we find the best ‘minimalist’ ideas and practice. They just don’t appear at the endless ‘show off-cons that systems produce’. I’ll leave that there – junk culture starts at the top.

Too much choice, little evidence in the classroom

So we have an abundance of choice, virtually no empirical research to support whether the junk-culture of endless apps and products is good or bad. What we have is a system which still demands exams (individual reading, comprehension, writing and explanation) in order to get a job or into further education – and numerous high-profile principals and gurus banging on about open classrooms, funky furniture and why you should buy into it on an epic sale. I recommend reading Digital Play, as it blows the lid on the BS marketing and commercialisation of children’s play – the very thing so many are getting over excited about.

Minimalism is good economics, it doesn’t mean less meaningful, less functional or less anything … that’s a marketing lie from the 52 seasons of fashion we have in daily life.

I tend to buy old cars with minimal features, simple, yet clever engineering and iconic style that makes me happy just to look at them. From another angle, I’m not a minimalist in the sense that I also own ten cars and to me, less than five means I’m starting to think about buying into the cycle of ‘new appliance’ cars and not the true zen of enjoying driving as a big piece of my leisure time. Each one makes me happy and my view is they cost nothing in the end – they all go up in value, so any money I spend on them washes away as there’s always someone who wants to get into a #drivetastefully machine and I’ve been doing that for twenty years. It’s nice when people ask about a car I’m in – often what is it or they tell me a story about their past, or that one day, they are going to abandon their ‘normal’ car and get a weekender. To me, they could be doing that now, it’s just a choice – driven by the endless consumer media messages about lifestyle. So minimal can be: functional, enjoyable, sustainable, and easy to access – which is what classroom technology should be. Minimal doesn’t mean cheap or crap – most people who decide to try and adopt it – still want quality – and think about what that means (to them) not what the TV and adverts say it means to (everyone).

The problem with EdTech

In 2006 I dived into EdTech as a way to kick down the classroom walls and get past the textbook. Back then, EdTech was small and most people who knew what ‘folksonomy’ and ‘Second Life’ were – knew each other. Google was still just a search engine. It was a minimalist movement: blogs, wikis and simple tools that allowed new functionality. Today, it’s a slogan-driven plurality of software and devices which lack empirical scrutiny and rely almost entirely on junk-culture trends and valorisation by influencers on social media to become ‘the best’. Open source has faded into the distance, with ex-classroom teachers promoting brands on never ending global tours. The problem with EdTech is that it’s as aspirational and happiness driven as the 52-week fashion cycle and upgrade path that dominates life – and doesn’t create happiness for many. Getting back to a minimal backbone of form and function means buying less, worrying less and using less.

Minimalism is …

Pick an old tool, pick one with a long history of success. Next, think of all media as a text type. Create a reading and writing continuum for you students for the time you have them, which is at their level – not the aspirational or entertainment level being falsely presented as digitally smart kids. Don’t confuse a kids ability to play complex video games with anything other than their ability to play complex video games. Stick to what we know makes a difference in their lives – things such as READING using Modern English, in books – it helps them pass exams. Don’t buy into the EdTech bullshit, that relies on the Great American Cowboy narrative to infer you are changing the world and going to overthrow the modernism that underpins ideology, or that politicians actually want a sophisticated reading public. Be a minimalist. Pick a limited number of tools and texts and if you need a new one, throw out an old one. This doesn’t mean you now need to know about ten tools, you still need to be all over what is possible, but kids don’t need excess … they need to learn to use screen-time for productivity, to deepen their understanding … and if all you do this year is get them to use Tiny URL and read single Google Doc with links to texts they can use well, spend your time crafting that one doc. You might not get picked for next week’s TeachMeet – but welcome to the EdTechMinimalists … where your time is now yours again …


I know this is a giant post … but right now, I see this as a cornerstone in EdTech’s evolution. Either the brands and online ego-derps win, or scholarship prevails. And to me, only scholarship and minimalist behaviour provide can kids with a healthy sense of being empowered to reject the BS and focus on the game of school. So I’m interested in thoughts on this … I

So I’m interested in thoughts on this … I realize only 10 people read this … but hey …


2 thoughts on “The MinimalEdTech Movement

  1. Hey Dean. A great call to action. I like it.
    I’ve got a question about tech experimentation though. I’m a fan of those hacker-type teachers always testing out emerging tech ideas to find a fit in the classroom. How does this fit with minimalism? Surely the experimentation is something to encourage as we all benefit from what they learn?

    • My view is that experimentation should be supported. It needs to have goals that are measurable and in most cases be comparable to previous/current ideas and practice. The best way to learn is to experiment, not be directed, so I certainly make time in my classes for kids to experiment with a range of ideas/approaches. Some kids take off and head out into their own paths and some don’t. To me, being minimalist means the teacher provides a well chosen set of tools to underpin their experience, but be realsitic enough to keep that within ‘boundaries of success’ such that teacher’s dont set high summits for kids who are not going to reach them – or even be interested. So much of EdTech is powered by the teacher’s personal belief and bias, that kids seem overly directed. Teachers and students enjoy and benefit from experiments – not constraints – but in a modernist system – those boundaries are set for us and them still. Thanks for your reply Geoff.

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