I like free things. It’s neat when I can log into a service, do my thing, get the most bang for my buck – $0 – and then continue on my day.
But I’d like to think that educators, specifically those who use educational technologies, understand that nothing is truly free.
Not even free services, not by a long shot. More on that in a bit.
There was sadness across the interwebs when Google Reader went away. Simply designed, wildly impactful Google Reader. We’d been subscribing and bundling and organizing all the feeds that mattered to us and our learning and then, they took it away.
We had to find other solutions, and frankly, nothing really came close to replicating the experience we had with Reader. At least in my experience.
But we couldn’t stop reading, subscribing, learning, and sharing, in the absence of that tool. We had to find alternatives, we had to consider: What purpose did the tool serve? How can I replicate that with another service or via other means? And why should I bother? Is it essential to my learning to have a tool like this at my disposal? Or was it an extra? Something unnecessary? Something frivolous?
People are voicing loudly their criticisms of Padlet’s decision to move to a paid service. You get to keep your current Padlets, they’re not going away, +3 on your freebie plan. Additional walls and features are something like $99/year. Steep, for sure. More info on that here.
I’ve used Padlet since it was Wallwisher. I have 30+ walls saved. I used it as recently as last month with my grad students as a break from the drudgery of Blackboard interface. I demo it at workshops. I use it to get participant feedback during conference sessions.
Sure, it sucks that I will have to explore other alternatives, but I don’t need Padlet. You might not need it either. Your students probably don’t need Padlet.
And yet, maybe they do. Maybe you do. That’s a decision you have to make as a leader of learning, with the people in your school that support technology integration and instructional design and who write the checks. Maybe ask your students, too. What do they get out of using this tool?
We love to shout “pedagogy first, tech second” and “don’t teach your kids tools, teach them skills” and yet when an announcement like this is made, we respond with rage and, heaven forbid, a closed mindset about what this really means in the grand scheme of the most important thing that should be happening in our classrooms: Learning.
If your students can no longer learn because Padlet (or insert any formerly-free-now-paid-tool) is now inaccessible to them, then I think it would be wise to come together as instructional teams and determine what it is that they were doing with Padlet in the first place, and how that experience can be replicated in a different way, if it is something that truly helped them learn.
It’s annoying, for sure. It’s unfair to continue to ask more from teachers, specifically money, when they’re already wildly underpaid and spend hundreds of dollars on classroom essentials and building classroom libraries, but ed tech tools moving from free to paid versions isn’t the most impossible obstacle we have to overcome. We deal with far more alarming problems in our children’s lives: poverty, hunger, racism, inequitable funding for schools, lack of leadership, placing value on the wrong things (standardized tests and assessment measures), failure to have the means to support communities.
Now, back to the “free” services discussion.
Those are the costs, for freebie services. The companies may be using your personal information elsewhere. They may be tracking your activity, logging your data, and selling it to other companies. These things happen behind the scenes, aren’t always obvious to the user, and smart people like Bill Fitzgerald and Audrey Watters and other leaders in this space are trying to keep educators more informed about this. Companies love giving free perks to teachers with the expectation that teachers will share their use of the tools with colleagues and in social spaces to help build the brand. Some consider that exploitation, other teachers are happy to do it. When it’s done with classrooms of students who don’t have say in the choice and use of tools, that might be viewed as a questionable practice. And, let us not forget the many giant companies and corporations who are funding many of these ventures, and the motivation behind these “generous” fundings. What’s in it for them?
So what should your next steps be? And prior to bringing new technologies into your schools, what should you be thinking about?
- Do I need this tool? Why? How does it really support learning?
- What are the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of using this service? Do the rewards of use outweigh the risks?
- Is there a paid service I could explore that will meet my needs and better protect the privacy of my information and my students’ information?
- How can I inform parents/community members about our use of this tool and what mechanisms are in place for parents to opt their children out of using it?
- When this tool and/or its plan changes, how will we adjust? What will our plans be to make seamless transitions to other tools or strategies when the inevitable happens?
Would love to hear your thoughts on this issue in the comments here!
More to Read:
Edmodo’s Tracking of Students and Teachers Revives Skepticism Surrounding ‘Free’ Edtech Tools
Education Technology and the Power of Platforms
Education Technology and the Promise of Open and Free