Holt Think: Ed, Creativity, Tech, Administration


Riding Donkeys in a Horse Race: Digital Equity

I have been thinking a lot about digital equity and how schools need to provide it for kids, especially those that are coming through our doors without any tech from home. George Couros recently had an article about it here, and I was all with him until he brought up the idea of Chromebooks being “good enough.” Faithful readers already know my stand on how Chris Lehman and his SLA high school switch.

Here is an argument I am hearing a lot:

Some low end device like a Chromebook (formerly netbook, formerly thin clients, formerly OLPC laptop, formerly Linux/Unix refurbs, formerly whatever cheap ass piece of technology de jour was being thrust upon education…) is good for students because it provides XX% of the technology experience that the “real devices” does. This is especially true for students that have NO technology. Hey kid, be glad for what you get, because anything is better than nothing.

Frankly, that is a terrible argument and it is demeaning not only to the students that are in low SES and their tax paying parents, but to education as well.

Couros had a really nice statement in his article “… Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event. How many pencil labs do you have in your school?”

Great point. Tech should be at the point of instruction. He left off a word however: GREAT.

GREAT Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil…

Not “adequate”, not “ok,” not “mediocre,” not “the cheapest we could buy,” not “good enough,” not “hand me down,” not “hobbled.”

The technology we provide students should be the best we can provide.

Miguel Guhlin uses the “90% of all tasks can be completed" argument here as a way of implying that good enough is good enough. (He cites a study in the article.)

Again, a terrible argument.

This idea of providing something that ALMOST can do the job is laughable. It is like giving a kid a donkey to run the Kentucky Derby. Okay kid, that donkey will actually make it around the track just like the thoroughbreds can. Never you mind that the race will be over for 30 minutes by the time you finish. The donkey is good enough for your needs.

Here kid, we are giving you a 1975 Chevy Vega to run the Daytona 500. Good luck. It is LIKE a Nascar car, heck, it is 90% of everything that a Nascar car is: It has an engine, it has four wheels, it has a seat a speedometer, a stick shift,…Heck, it does 90% of what a Nascar car can do. Be happy.

The kids coming from low SES are the farthest behind. To give them something that is already hobbled is insulting. Here kid, you are behind already, here is something that will make you farther behind, But be glad, because you can do 90%!

Couros uses the pencil lab analogy in his piece. I wonder if he would use the analogy that students receive pencils that write 90% of the time as being “ok” or “good enough?” Does he think that those lab computers should be dispersed and used 90% of the time or 100% of the time? Those pencils can complete 90% of the assignment just fine.

That thinking is ludicrous.
No other profession thinks this way.

Would you want to use an MRI machine that provides 90% of a picture? That is good enough isn’t it?
Would you go to a movie, pay full price, and expect to get only 90% of it?
Imagine of you are on a plane and the instruments in the cockpit provided 90% of the information to the pilot. Would you feel safe?
Name one coach that tells his team to go out and “give 90%!”
Would you go to a surgeon if you knew his success rate was 90%?
Would you get Lasik if you knew the success rate was 90% or that the Lasik laser in your eyeball would do 90% of the procedure?
Would you buy a Big Mac if they left off 10% of the ingredients?

Of course not.

Here is the deal: If cheap is the way to go and it is preparing kids for college and the workforce, then everybody in a school district that is IN THE WORKFORCE, every administrator, every clerk, every secretary, and every accountant at every campus all the way up to the district superintendent should be willing to use the cheap devices.

Let’s see the district architects use them.
Let’s see researchers use them.
Let’s see the accountants use them.
Let’s see the principals use them.
Let’s see the IT staff use them to run the servers.

If it is good enough for the least among us, then it should be good enough for the most advanced of us. I wonder how many upper administration would move to cheap devices if they had to use them 100% of the time to do 90% of the work?

Time to rethink this thinking.