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The real cost of “free”

Why teachers need to think twice before using "free" edtech tools

3 min read


The real cost of "free"


When Indiana educator Matt Miller found KidBlog, he was ecstatic. Finally, he said in a recent interview with Education Talk Radio, he’d discovered the perfect technology for his Spanish students that would help them to practice writing in their new language and allow other students to give feedback. As a teacher, Miller also was attracted to the price: Free.

Then tragedy struck, or so Miller thought at the time, and KidBlog started to charge for its services. The company was only asking $54 a year, but as Miller noted in his blog, “On Paying for Digital Classroom Tools,” recently recognized with a Smart Brief Editor’s Choice Award, that was “about 0.1% of my gross annual salary.” It was too rich for his budget, so he abandoned the blogging site in favor of Google documents.

Miller said he regretted the decision and now realizes that even though Google resources may be free, the tradeoff of the tools for the advertising and privacy concerns can often be too great.

“We’re paying for Google because we’ve become the product,” said Miller. “They have this information about us. They know our habits and the sites we go to and then whenever their advertisers get access to all that then all of a sudden that’s where Google makes the money.”

Now, Miller encourages teachers to seek ways to help education technology startups when they begin charging by either showing administrators how the technology enhances learning or by crowdsourcing funding for the tool.

Miller said he has “one big rule” when picking the right technology to use in the classroom: “Whatever tool you use it should move the needle for learning in your classroom.”

That technology, he notes, can also either replace or supplement assigned textbooks while still allowing educators to cover material required by local, state and federal standards.

“I think the question we have to ask ourselves, too, is there’s a lot of teaching going on when we do that but is there a lot of learning going on?” Miller continues.”We can stand up in front of the classroom and assign a lot of activity but are they really learning? Technology plays a role in that. It doesn’t take the place of the textbook but I think it does help us to amplify what we do to a point to where it’s more engaging for students.”

Miller, who wrote a book called Ditch That Textbook in 2015, says allowing teachers to personalize their instruction techniques by using technology and other materials to enhance textbooks can also increase teacher morale.

“Whenever we mindlessly march through a textbook and just go chapter by chapter by chapter, we start to miss out on what makes us uniquely ourselves as teachers. We miss out on the power that a teacher has to personalize things to that set of students,” Miller said.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a freelance writer and contributing editor in SmartBrief’s education department.


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