Digital Minimalism and Media Education

This summer, on a whim, I picked up Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. This book could not have come into my life at a better time. I was in the throes of trying to revision our Teaching and Learning in the Digital course that we’ve taught at Appalachian State’s College of Education for over a decade as part of the core courses for every Education major, BK-12. This course had focused on media literacy and pedagogy, and I wanted to keep those strengths while simplifying the course enough to get buy-in from such a wide range of preservice teachers.

This book opened my eyes to a possibility. What if the road to preservice teachers thinking deeply about technology and media in their own teaching actually rested on this new(ish) philosophy? After all, we had always had a type of Digital Sabbath as an activity in the course, but this seemed to add a real depth to that idea. What could this philosophy offer my students?

Well, a lot, it turns out. Newport’s focus on how we might interact with technologies in new ways as we foster more life-sustaining activities and relationships has a real appeal, not only in my own personal life but also in my teaching. And, though not always easy, the way Newport suggests we go about shifting our relationship to technologies is so straightforward and well-articulated.

So, what does digital minimalism mean. According to Newport, digital minimalism is:

a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else. (Newport, 2019, p. 28)

He advocates three principles to this philosophy. The first is that “Clutter is costly” (pp. 35-44), in which he asserts that when it comes to social media, we need to think about the amount of life we are exchanging for our extensive use of these media and whether the cost is worth it. The second principle, called The Return Curve, rests on the idea that we can optimize how we use technologies to get the benefits we want to get from it. The last principle is the foundation for the others. In this principle, the goal is to figure out what we value the most then work backwards in how we decide to use technologies, if at all. The key question with digital minimalism is, then, “Is this the best way to use technology to support (our) value(s)? (p. 29).

This becomes a crucial point when we are thinking about the perspective teachers can take when integrating technologies into their teaching and into their students’ learning. In this view, I would like to offer up this expanded definition of digital minimalism for teaching. Digital minimalism is

[a] philosophy of technology use in which you focus your teaching time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities both with and without media that strongly support learning you value, and then happily miss out on everything else. (adapted from Newport, 2019, p. 29)

From my past literacies work, I have discovered how important modalities are in terms of expressing ideas, especially for young people and people who have been marginalized. So, when it came to figuring out how digital minimalism works with teaching, I went back to the basics. In our section of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, we are exploring how what we value pedagogically can be fostered using media in various forms based on different modes, namely sound, image, and gesture (body). We will culminate in a Teaching with Media Tools assignment, which is common to all sections, and a Teaching with Media Philosophy statement for my section. Along the way, we will do our own Digital Declutter assignment where I hope to foster some thinking about what we value in education as applied to the students’ own rethinking of digital media.

Pyles_Assignment 1

Copyright: Damiana Pyles, via Adobe Spark

In our last class, we did some mind-mapping work with Newport’s ideas along with a really fascinating video from CrashCourse that explored social media. Then, we spent some time analyzing the teaching tool, Seesaw, to see how it might be falling prey to some of the pitfalls Newport talks about but also how it might be optimized for teaching and learning.

It’s going to be a very enlightening semester, and I can’t wait to see where this leads us.


NC-ACTE 2015: Literacy and Letterland: Fostering Literacy Based on Teacher Perspectives

Unfortunately I lost my voice, so I wasn’t able to present this presentation at this year’s NC-ACTE Fall Forum today. But, here is the presentation in case folks are interested.

Basically, this presentation is discussing how there are inherent beliefs in the teaching materials we use, in this case in Letterland, but teachers can use their own set of beliefs to counter those beliefs, if needed, when they use the materials in their teaching to better meet the needs of their students.

Literacy and Letterland: Fostering Literacy Based on Teacher Perspectives from Damiana Gibbons Pyles on Vimeo.

Media Literacy Lesson Using Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire”

I admit it: I love just about everything Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. So, when I started thinking about storytelling and media, I thought I might try to teach an introduction to media literacy using Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire from the second Hobbit movie.

I just love how the song itself tells its own complete story. But, when you pair it with the movie (and even the book), it adds a whole new dimension. One media artifact links to so many others in this one video, which makes it fascinating for a media literacy lesson.

With this in mind, I created a Versal lesson (or click on image below). I’m thinking of beginning by playing the song itself, then move into the lyrics, the video, then the larger picture. I’m trying it out tomorrow, so fingers crossed.

Screenshot of my Versal lesson

Screenshot of my Versal lesson

Useful Web 2.0 Resources for Teaching and Learning (compiled with links)

For a Professional Development workshop I am doing tomorrow for Wilkes County Schools, I compiled a visual, hyperlinked list of Web 2.0 resources, all of which are school appropriate. Some cool resources are not for schools and/or cost too much for teachers, so I did not include them. But, are there any good resources that are free and COPPA compliant that I am missing?



Workshop for Course (Re)Design Institute at AppState: Using Media Tools to Provide Audio or Video Feedback to Student Assignments

Tomorrow I will have the honor of speaking with creative, wonderful faculty at AppState who are working to design or re-design their courses as part of AppState’s Course (Re)Design Institute, a four-day institute where chosen faculty revise and/or create courses through a series of informative and engaging sessions. This year’s institute is facilitated by Dr. Tracy Smith, and it is sure to be a treat. In this institute, I was asked to be part of Concurrent Conversations in which different faculty have a mini-workshop on a variety of topics. Given the broad range of faculty, each with their own expertise and pedagogical know-how, I’m sure I will learn as much as I teach.