Recognizing Devaluation in EdTech and Teaching

Published: 2016-06-27 11:18 |

Category: Technology |

ISTE 2016 is in full swing and right on cue, my hype-o-meter tolerance has dropped significantly. A huge concentration of edtech vendors and Twitterati all in one place can lead to a lot of mumbo jumbo. But, we’ll power through the next four days and try to pull the wheat from the chaff.

Two big things that come up in waves each year: A) If you’re looking for tech, free is what you deserve as a teacher, and B) If you’re creating things, it should be given freely to the rest of the teaching world.

Free is king in edtech and it’s killing good tech.

Exhibit A:

Teachers shouldn’t pay teachers. Teachers would be sharing willingly for the benefit of all kids. #ISTE2016

—?????? ?. ???????? (@web20classroom) June 26, 2016

He later goes on to say:

No one. If a teacher creates something truly amazing, they have a moral obligation to give it away.

—?????? ?. ???????? (@web20classroom) June 26, 2016

The idea that resources for teachers should all be free because of a moral imperative is dangerous and devalues the hard work that goes into creating content.

If you go through the tweets, the main argument is that a lot of the materials on Teachers Pay Teachers (or similar) are really crappy. There are a lot of crappy products available that I choose not to buy. The guy selling it is perfectly within his rights to sell a product to compensate for the time put into creating it. There has to be some kind of recognition that all work is not equal and that being paid for significant time and effort to create a product is completely appropriate, even for teachers.

Second, my moral obligation is to my students first and foremost. I don’t charge them for resources I create, much of it on my own time. I also choose, freely, to give a lot away to the teaching community because I don’t feel the time I’ve put into those resources was significant enough to ask for compensation.

Expecting teachers to work for free devalues those hours and allows edtech companies to fill the gap and make good money while they’re doing it.

There’s another parallel to explore: expecting free software for the sake of teaching devalues the hard work of development, QA testing, troubleshooting, and maintenance of code. The time is valuable and it is completely appropriate to be compensated for that time.

The free-as-best mindset is a dangerous delimiter being placed on what is valuable or invaluable in education based on price alone.

Unfortunately, in order to appeal to the education community at-large, the free-as-best standard is being encouraged by edtech companies. The following was shared by PhET Sims:

The image is well-intended. But, the message is the same one that’s plaguing edtech: all software should be free. (If you’re not familiar with PhET, it runs from grants and individual donations. I’m a big user of their sims in my own classroom and I’ve taken the step to donate some money to the continuation of the project.) I’d be willing to bet that the developers working for PhET to create and maintain the simulations like to be paid for their work. The sims aren't free and the cost is not exposed clearly enough to the user.

ISTE concentrates these ideas and feeds the perception that price point is the main factor in the usefulness or value in a product. There are costs everywhere and to keep doors open as a company, you have to meet those costs. If you’re not paying cash for a service, that cost is most likely data you’re contributing, and that’s for another post.

If you’re at ISTE right now (or if you know someone who is) please keep this in mind as you research and share about new tools. Don’t perpetuate the free-as-best narrative because in the long run, it’s going to cost us all.

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