The digital equity concerns of ‘good enough’

Close up

Tim Holt says:

[George] 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%!


I greatly appreciate Tim’s digital equity concerns and passion. We should indeed strive to provide the same for our children that we use as adults if we want their technology usage to be as authentic as possible. I’m struck by his observation that adult educators typically aren’t using cheap computers to do their day-to-day work but we seem to think it’s okay for kids:

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?

All that said, I’m having a hard time reconciling digital equity concerns with the realities of funding during this time of mindset and paradigm shifts. I want the best for kids too, but I’d rather have 90% for them than nothing. Tim might agree with me on that point. However, he’s not framing this as a choice between 90% and 0% but rather as a choice between 90% and 100%, with iPads closing the final gap at a price point similar to Chromebooks. I think that both devices have their limitations. If you forced me to choose personally (I have both), I’d rather have an iPad than a Chromebook, primarily because of its apps and ease of taking photos/videos. I’m not sure if I’m ready yet to pillory schools that make the opposite choice as they go for 90% instead of 0%.

Lots of food for thought in Tim’s post

Image credit: Close Up 0410, Mike Liu

13 Responses to “The digital equity concerns of ‘good enough’”

  1. Howdy! I offer a response to 90% IS good enough when it comes to Chromebooks:

    Thanks for amplifying the conversation,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the

  2. I use many tools. One of my go to tools is a chromebook. As my students say, “don’t judge me!” I don’t think schools should buy chromebooks alone, but using my school as an example, our chromebook mobile labs are preferred over our higher end laptop labs. The kids like how quickly they boot and ease of use. The apps make them very good to use for multiple tasks. If you are going to use photoshop….check out the higher end laptops or reserve our new Lenovo desktop lab. No need to be a tool snob. #justsayin #don’tgohatin’onmychromebooks!

  3. Does the Chromebook connect students to ideas, resources, conversations and expertise? Does it enable students to create and contribute their knowledge and expertise for distribution across the world? Yes, it does that. So, by giving a student a Chromebook, and combining that with a student learning experience that utilizes the tool to accomplish the first two statements I listed, can your students have a more rich and expansive learning experience? The answer is yes. That’s a pretty good outcome…sign me up.

    • David,

      A Chromebook does SOME of what you say.

      Perhaps you and I (and lots of other people) have a profound disagreement as to what computers may bring to the learning process.

      We keep quibbling over whether Chromebooks, iPads or other “devices” can do the same stuff that school has done for millennia, perhaps .02% better. Information access, chatting, and report writing are the low-hanging fruit. Isn’t it time to raise expectations?

      Surely, we can begin to explore a few of the 20 ideas Papert and Solomon published in 1970?

      Most of what I do with children is impossible on an iPad and cumbersome, at best, on a Chromebook.

      I personally believe that the skills, processes, projects, and emerging technologies of the maker movement represent the real-game changers for learning. The Maker Movement is 95% iPad/Chromebook incompatible. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is NOW.

      I sure wish some organization would create a public venue where we can actually show examples of what we thing is sufficient use of a computer in education and let the world make a more informed decision based on that conflicting evidence.


      That said, I’m more intrigued by the Chromebook than I was a few months ago – mostly because it should be scaring the snot out of the rest of the hardware industry.

  4. I left this thought in the article that is cited here. (And thanks for keeping the conversation going:

    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?

    • It is agreed that people want perfection before they expose themselves to many new things. However, several companies on the forefront medical items, such as surgical breathing tubes for patients having long surgeries, initial Lasik laser cutters and water cutters for the cornea, would never have developed these tools if it had not been for clinical trials and experimentation. It was through those trials that the modern day tools are now on mass market. It is only through the R & D stages that these tools were eventually approved and have come to be common place for modern day medicine. Likewise, schools of today must learn how to use the tools with their students and must be willing to explore the nature of the technology and use it to its furthest extend. If educators wait until everything is the perfect 100%, then their students are the subjects that suffer an inability to make things work to their potential. Some of these students and educators may also realize the limits and possibilities of the technology available and will rise to the occasion of finding solutions to make things better. As an educator and a person who has worked outside education, to often people want the private Learjet, yet they would learn more about how to make things better by stepping through the developments of a single engine, to a dual propeller, to a commercial flight and then the personalized private Learjet. Students deserve to learn technology in any format; gaining the benefits from experimentation, trials and errors, and critically thinking how to make things better. It is time to stop selling students short and allowing them to make the critical choices while learning.

  5. In the comments section of the cited article George Couros asked a series of questions that I answered here:

  6. Scott,

    This 90% debate is worthless. Would you try a cancer cure that is 90% effective – if the alternative is no cancer cure? Would you marry a woman who makes you happy 90% of the time – if the alternative is never marrying? Would you try a teaching method that works for 90% of your students – if the alternative is keeping on doing the same old, same old?

    Wait for 100%, Miguel, and you’ll wait forever. Yes, I’ll take 90% functionality in the device I can afford today, rather than wait for the mythical 100% tomorrow.


    • Doug,
      The point of my article was that we do kids no service by providing them with hobbled equipment (the 90% rule) when equipment that will meet close to 100% of their needs is available and not much more expensive.

      Let me rephrase your question above: Would you try a cancer cure that was 90% effective, or one that is 95% effective?

      Would you try a teaching method that works 97% of the time or one that works 90% of the time?

      The alternative in my articles is not doing the “same old” but rather seeking technology solutions that are more adaptable, more versatile and more user friendly.

  7. I agree, the 90% debate is a worthless one, but it does help some folks better understand the capabilities of the technologies they choose for school.

    While the debate may be worthless, the discussion about what are the best tools for a cash-strapped school to invest in isn’t.

    My longer response to this conversation appears here:
    Sparked by Her Learning –

    No Longer Optional-Tech That Makes Life a Little Less Difficult

    With appreciation,
    Miguel Guhlin

  8. Could a student 100% participate in this conversation with a chromebook? (Comment posted on a chromebook by a district level administrator)

  9. I am wondering if there is any such thing as a 100% device? I’d rank Chromebooks, iPads, laptops and desktops all in the 80-90% range.

    I can spend $1200 on a powerful laptop for kids, but odds are that it doesn’t have a rear-facing camera, is not as portable as one would wish, has a shorter battery life, and requires more maintenance and protective software to keep it running.

    Pick you poison and just DO IT!


  10. Even 80%, much less 90%, of the list of learning activities–which I’ve detailed for the purposes of this conversation online for your review–of the conversation make the technologies under discussion worthwhile. I suspect the root of this argument is less the fact that Chromebooks are inadequate, and more that some have an unreasonable preference for one technology over all others.

    When I look around, I focus on the technology that gets the job done. If that’s Windows (I hate Windows), then that’s the tool. If it’s Linux, then Linux is it. If it’s Mac or iOS, then that’s what I go with. Avoid the sucker’s choice, “Either we go Apple because it’s the best blah blah blah, or nothing.”


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