When is it “good enough”?

We had the third Tech N Talk Tuesday brownbag lunch this week. It’s part of a series; each week over this semester (and maybe next if this is successful), we host lunchtime conversations about technology’s intersection with teaching and research. We cover a different topic every week. The first was on Mobile Devices in the classroom. The second was on Podcasting (with two faculty presenters: Leah Niederstadt and Michael Drout).

This week we discussed a class project by Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies, Domingo Ledezma. Faculty Technology Liaison, Jenni Lund, helped him out with the project. Ledezma’s students worked with primary sources — 16th century Spanish texts about the exploration of the “New World” — and digital images of maps from the period. Using the book as a source, they worked with Google Earth to map out part of one of Magellan’s voyages and attached text (in Spanish that they wrote) and images (primarily cropped segments of maps from the period) to points along his journey. The images were created by students cropping digital versions of old maps and uploading them to Flickr. (I’ll find the link to the Flickr account and post it here soon.) Great stuff!

Some good questions were raised by Ledezma’s talk: These types of projects are a great way to get students interested in and grappling with the texts, he told us, and so they function as great pedagogical tools. The process of creating this interactive map in GoogleEarth helps them learn more about the text — much in the same way researching and writing papers helps them learn about a topic. But what happens to these projects when the class is over?

One faculty member wanted to know where we store them and make them available for others to see. Sure, we can put them up on the web, but multimedia projects like this that are pulling from multiple sources — a kml file, Flickr — and which use GoogleEarth for display are not like an academic paper that fits well into… say… DSpace. And there’s no guarantee that a project like this will last into the future. Will GoogleEarth and Flickr always be around? Will we be able to view these maps ten years from now? At the rate technological changes are moving, what about 1 or 2 years from now?

Ledezma and others followed up with questions about trying to show others this work. Is it ready to just post somewhere after the class is over? Given that class projects are… well class projects, it would seem that a certain about copyediting and fact checking needs to happen before it is put out there for all to see. But who does that work? We’ve hired students to do it in the past — but is that the right approach? And my big question: how much of this kind of work really needs to be done before we can post it?

I have worked on a lot of projects that we planned on getting up on the Web to share with others, but that we held off on posting because we wanted to make sure it was right before we did. More recently, I have been thinking that you have to decide ahead of time that there comes a point when a project is “good enough.” After a while, you have to stop tinkering and just get it up there. The trickier part is finding that sweet spot — the point in the project where the thing you put out there isn’t too chocked full of errors, but that isn’t too long after when the project started or the class ended.

Someone attending the talk rightly noted that the point of these projects isn’t so much the product anyway — that it’s the process. The process helped those old texts come alive for students. The process made students more engaged. If that’s the case, maybe we should just post them right away. Or maybe not at all? I don’t know… on the one hand, it would be a shame to hide all of that good work, but on the other, I’m not sure the perfectionist in me would want to get stuff out there that was too rough. I’m thinking my new mantra might need to be, “there comes a time when it’s good enough.” I just wish I could find a way to know when it was that time.

It’s ironic that that I should be ending on this note and that this theme is the title of this blog post. You see, I started writing this on Tuesday and have been coming back to it on and off ever since. It seems I’ve got to have the same attitude about posting to my blog too. OK, Scott, time to post. This may not be perfect… but it’s a blog! And good enough.

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