One of the most fun aspects of my job is that I get to research and use lots and lots of innovative and new technology tools. I get to play with apps that help me improve my math fluency, assist me in learning another language, practice writing, or animating a movie to show what I know. It’s also really fun to be able to share with teachers a tool or trick that will help to make their lives easier.
However, I am often frustrated by the question that seems to jump out of teachers’ mouths before I even have a chance to show all the great things a resource can do. They immediately ask: “How much does it cost?” or “Is it free?” If a product costs money, it seems like it gets dismissed out of hand, despite how useful it may be. I will agree that many products out there claim to do everything and be the “next big thing” in education and fall far short of what they promise. It’s easy for companies to slap a bunch of educational buzz words on their promotional materials and sell it at high cost to schools and districts. As is often the case, these products over-promise and under-deliver. It is easy to see how one could become quite skeptical of educational products that cost money.
Where I find frustration is the expectation that all educational products should do all of these things – have high quality content, be ad-free, maintain student privacy, etc. – without having to pay for it. And it seems like this is an ed-tech phenomenon. I don’t encounter other areas where people demand high-quality food or clothing and don’t want to pay for it. If a product we buy does not suit our tastes, we can usually send it back and get something we do want. But in almost every instance, I pay for it. If an item of clothing doesn’t fit me but I’ve lost the receipt or the return period is over, I am out that money. The expectation that something will work the way we want it to comes along with the expectation that I will pay for it.
While I understand that we all have finite resources, it is unsustainable for a company or person to create products, share them with the world, and not expect to be compensated in some way. Even if he or she is not getting rich off of their product, there are still costs to maintaining the product – keeping it updated, fixing bugs, etc. That money has to come from somewhere.
On the other hand, there are a handful of really high-quality products that have a “freemium” pay schedule, where you can access certain features for free, and others cost. I think this model is quite appealing, because it’s sometimes challenging to envision how you might use a product until you can actually use it in your practice! The opportunity to “try it before you buy it” is a great model and one that I think is useful for teachers. This also allows the creators of the product to continue to offer the basics for free, while generating money to keep the product fresh and up to date, as well as free from bugs and software issues.
What say you? Is the “is it free” mentality an ed tech phenomenon? Do you believe in paying for educational products?