Can We Trust Free #EdTech? (When) Will the Bubble Burst?

Monday, March 6, 20172:40 PM

My favorite technology tools have a powerful impact on student learning and make life easier for teachers and students. And more often than not, they’re usually free.

I’m a big proponent of free edtech; as a classroom teacher I don’t have money to spend and it’s hard to get the wheels of district bureaucracy turning for new purchases. I’m lucky to be in a position where I’m involved in these conversations and often get to pilot and train teachers in tools like Pear Deck and Scrible, but more and more I’m finding the need of paying for value.

Free is great. I can get on board with the ever-growing freemium models. I’m totally fine with paying for a worthwhile product, too.

But my frustration occurs when a product shifts along that continuum. What happens when a free product turns paid? Or when features are restricted on a freemium model? I’ve come to reasonably trust many of these companies, but am finding more and more that free edtech isn’t a sustainable or realistic option, at least not when planning beyond the now.

When will the free #edtech bubble burst?

A great cartoon from

Movenote was once a favorite tool for flipped and blended instruction in my school. I wrote about it in my article, My Top 3 Tools for Flipped Activities. For over a year, I used it regularly, and so did many of our teachers and students. It’s ability to combine camera video with a Power Point or Slides presentation makes it such an easy tool for teachers.

But when they went to a paid model, my resources were held hostage. I had no way to download them to another format and lost them, despite many attempts to find another option. In the end, I got what I paid for; nothing in life is free.

I’m disappointed to have put my trust tested but a product I loved, but it made me question to role of free technology in the first place. Movenote certainly isn’t the only example, but it’s the most impactful loss in my practice.

But should we be paying for more? Obviously student data security and impact on student learning are the most important things to consider when using new edtech, but we also need to be able to trust that we will be able to use the tools consistently. These decisions are often bigger than one classroom teacher, but when technology is a fixture in today’s classroom, there are important questions for all of us to ask.

I could live in a world without Movenote, but what about a world without Google? How much can we trust free technology? And for how long?

What is the role of free technology in schools? Share your ideas in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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  1. Really good points here! I too have been burned by tools that are free one year, and not the next. I really want to see more transparency from these companies about their future plans. That would allow me to know whether or not these tools can be used long term :)

    1. Hey Rachel! Thanks for the comment. Transparency is key. I want to recognize their need to be a business without conflicting with our goals as educators. I'd love more transparency in that area.