When Great is the Enemy of Good

Man frustrated with computer
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technology 300x236 When Great is the Enemy of GoodWe are all well aware of the fact that if we want to figure out any new technology we basically have two choices. The first is to spend around a thousand hours either actually reading the manual or fooling around with the particular gadget (Do they even call them gadgets anymore?) until we give up in utter and complete frustration. The second choice (recommended, as they say) is to ask a six year old. The second option, while quite embarrassing, will save you time and add years to your life.


The above, while a bit tongue in cheek, points to a particular challenge facing teachers who have been asked to integrate new technologies into their classrooms, what has been termed by psychologists and IT personnel as the ‘Where do I plug this thing in?’ syndrome. To give an example: (No, I am not making this up.) A teacher in Toronto was wondering why a power outage in the school had affected the internet link. “After all,” she asked, “Don’t we have a wireless connection?”


While I cannot offer much assistance to all the luddites our there, other than making sure they have a constant supply of six year olds around, I do want to address a more serious issue which I feel seriously hinders the successful use of technology in the classroom: fear of not being good enough. While I agree with the ‘good is the enemy of great’ philosophy, sometimes great is the enemy of good as well.


Case in point: I was guiding teachers in the usage of screen-recording software to enable the creation of digital lessons. Teachers were excited about the prospect of recording lessons which their students could watch at home as homework, answer the attached questions and be prepared for classroom discussion the following day. User-friendly software, allows teachers to create and record such lessons, make them available to students on the net and even have the quiz answers, which students fill out online, be emailed to them on an Excel spreadsheet. I thought this would be a no-brainer. Two weeks later I was surprised to learn that most of the teachers had not used the technology. The reason: “I can’t compete with the quality of the programs the kids are used to, so I gave up.” The teachers explained that they can create a worksheet that rivals the professional look of the textbook, but they can’t create a digital lesson that comes even close to matching the computer games or other professional media available to and used by their students. “Frankly,” admitted the teachers, “We’re pretty embarrassed with the way our stuff looks.”


And they had a point. Great had become the enemy of good.


But, I think they are making a mistake. Of course they can’t compete with the companies that spend millions on creating digital media, and we do teachers a disservice when we use those media as a model for what they can create. It is important that teachers understand that they do not have to compete with Silicon Valley but only with their classrooms. Students do not approach a digital lesson expecting to be wowed by special effects, nor do they feel the need to be captivated by consistent interactive activities. Kids understand that this is school, not a video game. And, while we wish we could offer our entire curriculum as part of some inter-galactic fantasy adventure, it is simply ridiculous to really believe that is going to happen, or even be a good idea in the first place.


To some extent the popularity of the Khan Academy, with its low-tech and no frills approach to on-line education, should be a model for us all. Millions access his lessons for only one reason; because they teach us something. We must encourage teachers to simply create and leave the bells and whistles to the technology professionals. When it comes to their initial forays into this new frontier, let them know that good is great.

4 Responses to When Great is the Enemy of Good

  1. Teri Lunden says:

    When Great is the Enemy of Good:….As I read your article, I immediately reacted to a long held belief of my own. Even though, after 40 years, I ‘retired, sort of’ 12 years ago, but I’m still active with my District Assessment Dept. in a part time position. I’m, therefore, one of the oldies that can see the problem from the opposite end of where a classroom teacher is positioned.
    My observations, over these many, many (52) years is that the majority of really hard working teachers do not have the knowledge or practice of ‘How’ to feel comfortable in front of a video camera! I firmly believe that Teacher Prep classes and later in the teaching career, in-district Self-Help Classes should include Stage/Media Presence Education; 1st hand experience for individuals to produce and observe themselves in front of a camera. The opportunity to learn basics, to create and then destroy the evidence and continue to improve, all within an environment where they have the tools and the positive support to seriously work on improving their abilities, is what I believe is needed for Great to NOT be in the way of “Good, hey I can do this and it is working in my classroom!”
    These classes should not be considered as insignificant, (the one considered ‘easy’ ways to get a credit!) In present reality of what qualities a teacher needs, the ability to present themselves in the most effective way to others, whether in a classroom, at a public forum or ‘on’ media, is extremely important in How Effective they are as educators!

    Addendum: I have observed some situations where Teachers and/or District have really bought into using internet accessible Lessons, with insufficient preparation given to the parents. Situations where the student is expected to sign-in to sub-areas within an educational site. I’ve heard parents concerns that they do not know how safe (virus? perverts? etc.) can those sites really be as they have been given insufficient previous info about the site/s!
    This is likely a subject for another day, but as it is part of using electronics for learning, it does point up a very significant concept in teacher use of electronics for learning: COMMUNICATE!!! Effectively communicate to home and students before you send you students off on their own! HOW? That, as I stated, is a subject for another day!

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Thank you for the valuable insight you offer. Yes, teachers should be taught how to navigate not only the technical side to online presentations but the ‘acting’ side as well. Speaking into a mike or to an empty screen is quite different than speaking to a classroom full of kids. Which segues quite well into your second point of preparing all constituencies for the challenges awaiting them in the online classroom environment. These skills will be crucially important, for both teachers, parents and students alilke, as the future clearly holds great promise for internet education. Moving fearlessly, but with appropriate caution, is the key to opening the wonders this new media can offer.

  2. I do have to add one other dimension to your comment, “Students do not approach a digital lesson expecting to be wowed by special effects, nor do they feel the need to be captivated by consistent interactive activities.” Most of my students in grades 9-12 have little interest in learning a new technology. They abide by the 5 sec rule…if the screen isn’t up and working in 5 seconds, they are done. This can be a source of frustration for the teacher who is still stumbling with the technology and the student who has no interesting in moving the lesson forward!
    What my BYOD teachers and I have also discovered was that many of our students were reluctant to try new platforms that differed even slightly in organization or layout. A login in a different location was perplexing; an embed code or link could not be located. We found our students were not naturally tech-savvy, save the requisite number of computer geeks per class. They did not want to move out of their comfort zone in technology, partly because they knew that work was involved, but, in fairness, partly because they were intimidated.
    Students who know how to quickly log on to computers at home to check Tumblr and Facebook, considers this contraption on a school desk as a foreign object.
    Full post at http://usedbooksinclass.com/?s=digital+tourists

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Thank you for your excellent feedback. Finding the balance between nudging students out of thier comfort zone while not losing them to frustration, is, and will always be, the challenge of any teacher. Your comments show how this remains true even where technology is concerned. At the end of the day, most of our low-level tech creations may appeal to students who want/need to know, and to a (much) lesser degree to the casual learner. The trick will be changing the latter into the former.

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