Simplify, Simplify

Engaging “Good Enough” Technology for Teaching


 Ron Tyler

Grade 3 teacher

Ross Ford Elementary School




            Many elementary school teachers ask their students to use technology tools that are too complicated and too costly. These complications lead to frustration for teachers, for students, and for administrators. Simple, inexpensive tools are currently available for teachers that can be easily learned and can allow student voices to be clearly heard. In this article, I will name some of these tools and present examples of student work using these tools.



Wired magazine published an article almost five years ago by Robert Capps titled “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine.” In this article Capps argued that cheap, fast, simple tools were adequate for tasks, which previously had been fulfilled by more complex tools. Capps offered examples: despite small disadvantages, people were content to use inexpensive Flip cameras to take and upload pictures. Military drones were becoming common, used instead of more expensive manned planes. Net-based Skype was quickly supplanting more robust telecom services. Netbook sales were blooming, despite a lack of storage, processing power, and graphics capability. He saw these simple products as able to perform the tasks users needed to accomplish. The tools were, as he called them, ‘good enough’ for users. In Capps’ words, the “low end was riding high.”[1]

            Capps made sense. In the face of elegance, sometimes “good enough” was simply “good enough.” My assertion here is that similar “good enough” tools are now available that will allow students, in the words of the new Alberta Education Learning and Technology Policy Framework, to use technology as they “engage with their learning” and “shift the focus from … content toward learning and the learner, building competencies and enabling the learner to create and share knowledge.”[2]

            I am talking specifically about the iPad apps Haiku Deck, ScreenChomp, ThingLink, and PicCollage. Students can use all these tools to create, and such creation strengthens their learning. In fact, the four apps I mention here are only a few of many more. These four apps can be used within any subject curriculum. To flesh out my examples, I will reference how students might use these apps within specific curriculum.


‘Good Enough’ Examples

Haiku Deck

            This app allows students to create slide presentations on an iOS device or on a web browser. It provides templates for creating presentations. Because the app limits how much text can be put on a slide and text-formatting options are limited, students are forced to choose their words carefully and focus on what they are saying rather than how it “looks” on a slide. The app helps users find Creative Commons licensed images. Here is an example of a Grade 3 student working with Haiku Deck on a Science topic with images taken by the student, plus Creative Commons images found by the app.[3] By using this app, the student is achieving the Alberta Science curriculum objective of “communicating observations and conclusions” while “expressing what he has learned.”[4]


            This app allows students to create short lessons on an iOS device whiteboard where they demonstrate by drawing and giving oral directions. That’s all it does – nothing more. This app encourages students to engage language – which is a most distinctly human capability. Students love to use it. Here is an example of two Grade 3 students showing their understanding of a math concept.[5] These students are achieving the Alberta Math curriculum objective of “communicating in order to learn and express their understanding.”[6] Here is an example of a Grade 1 student showing their understanding of a Language Arts concept.[7] This student is achieving the Alberta Language Arts curriculum objective of “generating ideas.”[8]


            This app allows students to create online interactive images. While ThingLink creations can be infused with many types of rich media content, students can also be constrained to work simply with it by inserting text, pictures, and video taken by an iOS device or on a web browser. Here is an example of Grade 3 students showing their understanding of a class concept studied during the recent Sochi Olympic Games.[9] These students are achieving the Alberta Language Arts curriculum objectives of “presenting and enhancing” information as well as using “effective oral and visual communication.”[10]


            This app allows students to create picture collages on an iOS or Android device. The app allows importing pictures and text on a variety of canvas designs. Images can be rearranged simply by touching and dragging and can be resized by pinching. In this example, a Grade 1 student is showing her understanding of a science concept.[11] The teacher involved with this example calls the app “kid-friendly” and adds, “I showed them how to use it once and they learned it right away. And the way they can teach each other is mind-blowing. I like how everything is on the mobile device. They take pictures with it and then use the app to create the collages.”[12]

Discussion: Exploring the Good Enough

            NYU professor, Clay Shirky, maintains “some content requires complexity in order to attain value … but it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.”[13] I agree. Students can demonstrate deep understanding using simple tools.

If teachers are careful how assignments are structured, a plain Netbook (Chromebook) can accomplish all the required tasks. And can accomplish the tasks without (and this is crucial) diluting the learning objectives. A Netbook (Chromebook) cannot perform some tasks a MacBook Pro can perform, but teachers can structure assignments so more complex tools become irrelevant. Just as a lead pencil can accomplish all the tasks we assign it, we just do not assign it the task of replicating the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Similarly an iPad and the ThingLink app cannot produce the movie Gravity. But that should not matter. As teachers, we are allowing opportunities for our students to create interactive, multimedia projects that demonstrate understanding.

The world of science is full of “good enough” technologies. Prevention of blindness is as close as an easy, affordable, and portable mobile device and the Peek Vision system.[14] The Foldscope system uses a 50¢ optical microscope with over 2,000X magnification, sub-micron resolution (800nm), and is small enough to fit in a pocket.[15] A test for Parkinson’s disease is now available that can be administered remotely, takes less than 30 seconds, and is ultra low cost.[16]

Students using “good enough” technologies can achieve rigorous learning objectives. It’s time for more educators to follow Thoreau’s dictum in his book Walden - “Simplify, simplify”.



[1] Capps, R. (2009, August 24). The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine [website] Retrieved from http://archive.wired.com/gadgets/miscellaneous/magazine/17-09/ff_goodenough


[2] Learning and Technology Policy Framework. (2013). Page 14. [website] Retrieved from http://education.alberta.ca/media/7792655/learning-and-technology-policy-framework-web.pdf


[3] Fisher, W. (2013). Materials and Design [website] Retrieved from http://www.haikudeck.com/materials-and-design-uncategorized-presentation-HsWSh0g2aT


[4] Alberta Elementary Science Program of Study. (1996). Page 2. [website] Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/654825/elemsci.pdf


[5] William and Parker. (2013). [website] Retrieved from http://www.screenchomp.com/t/2QnFoAob


[6] Alberta Elementary Math Program of Study. (2007). Page 4. [website] Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/645594/kto9math.pdf


[7] Kyra. (2013). Red [website] Retrieved from http://www.screenchomp.com/t/f7MHWsU5uA


[8] Alberta Elementary Language Arts Program of Study. (2000). Page 42. [website] Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/450519/elak-9.pdf


[9] Caitlin, Sway, & Shandel (2014). Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics [website] Retrieved from https://www.thinglink.com/scene/462360893565435906


[10] Alberta Elementary Language Arts Program of Study. (2000). Page 83. [website] Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/450519/elak-9.pdf


[11] Fall.jpg. (2014). [website] Retrieved from http://rossfordgrade3.pbworks.com/w/file/78726608/Fall.jpg


[12] (B. Turner, personal communication, April 9, 2014)


[13] Crotty, D. (2010, April 7). Clay Shirky’s Collapse of Complexity – Does It Also Require A Collapse of Quality? [website] Retrieved from http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2010/04/07/clay-shirkys-collapse-of-complexity-does-it-also-require-a-collapse-of-quality/


[14] Peek Vision. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from http://www.peekvision.org/


[15] Foldscope: Microscopy for Everyone. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from http://www.foldscope.com/


[16] Parkinson’s Voice Initiative. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from http://www.parkinsonsvoice.org/