Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Value of Free - Slaying Dragons Reborn in New Form

Some time last week,  a proponent of expensive "cool, popular" technologies for schools in his iPad advocacy (you know who you are, dear friend), sent me a link that challenged the idea of free. Free as in's the idea that we should have to pay for classroom technologies, not just get them a la free, open source. As such, the article on Information Does Not Want To Be Free is used to support the purchase of expensive technologies schools just can't afford. I don't think the article can be used that way:
...separate pieces  now become one, they blend into one another.  They aren't centralized core competencies anymore.  This is represented by the idea that there are no more consumers now, there are only “users”. As a result, this transformation alters fundamentally the whole media value chain. This is potentially disruptive to many companies.
But it does not mean that users will not pay for information or content. (Source: Information Does Not Want to be Free)
The idea that we must pay for the means of information distribution, how we create content isn't entirely true.
Speaking more specifically about the Open vs. Closed debate, too often we hear the criticism ”Users don’t care about open”. This is absolutely true and the reason why most open efforts fail. Users don’t care about open. They care about utility and choice. This is why the only way to continue propagating the open web is to work with BUSINESS. B2C. Startups, Media Brands, The bigco Tech companies. They care about open because the proprietary winners are kicking the losers...and that usually means there are at least 1 or more other guys who need a competitive advantage. They need to team up and build, deploy and popularize the open alternative.  That’s why open always wins. There’s always plenty of losers around who are going to commoditize the popular closed thing. As technology leaders we’re paid to care about things users don’t care about. Things that shape the future. While users, in the short term, might not care, we should dare to think and dream a little bigger. As a case study look at Android vs. iOS. iOS is more profitable for a single company, but the other is now a force of nature. (Source: The Open Web is Dead--Long Live the Open Web)
While Apple may have a powerful tool in iPads, ibook Author, there are concerns for any educator who sees creating and sharing of content for noncommercial, attribution, sharealike purposes. Simply, why create content that Apple would control (link shows Apple has changed its EULA)? Still, why not output to ePub format rather than the stolid PDF? Instead, I'd prefer to create my content using a different free, open source tool (e.g. Sigil, and share it with the world, whether they use iPads or inexpensive netbooks running Linux OS.

Why would anyone accept a restriction on the ways they can distribute content if they can use other tools that have no such limitation? A variety of reasons come to mind: 1) Technologically challenged; 2) The tool is great and the user doesn't care about restrictions; 3) They are ignorant of the possibilities of free, open source ebook creation tools.

As a result of a second article in the LA Times made me have another thought that draws a comparison between old ILS approaches and new ones from companies like Apple.

Today, though, I am reminded of a conversation I had in my early career as a teacher and campus technology coordinator in Mt. Pleasant ISD schools. My principal had pulled me out of my 3rd grade bilingual classroom--my students were involved in using Tom Snyder's The Graph Club to create, well, graphs about their favorite vertebrate and invertebrates or something like that so they could be conveniently attended by a colleague without specific direction from her--to meet with a vendor. The vendor? A representative from a prominent integrated learning system (ILS).

In my youthful exuberance, I derailed the salesman's approach to selling the campus an ILS, pointing out that I wanted my students to be constructivist learners (I had just read The Case for Constructivist Classrooms and was fresh on the research debunking ILSs), using technology to exemplify "to know is to know how to make." Of course, who knows if constructivist approaches still endure the onslaught of testing, etc. That might be an interesting blog entry...what theology came after constructivist approaches were cast aside? Hmm....

In my mind, I remember the words of an article that said something along the lines of, "There's no way schools can resist the influx of technology into schools...there's too much money behind it." Unfortunately, that observation from Tom Snyder remains true today.
It's great to suggest that every student should be equipped with a laptop or given 24/7 access to Wi-Fi, but shouldn't our federal bureaucrats figure out how to stem the tidal wave of layoffs in the teaching ranks and unrelenting cutbacks in school programs and maintenance budgets first? School districts can't afford to buy enough textbooks for their pupils, but they're supposed to equip every one of them with a $500 iPad?
"There are two big lies the educational technology industry tells," says Reeves. "One, you can replace the teacher. Two, you'll save money in the process. Neither is borne out." (Source: Michael Hiltzik, LA Times)
It's easy to blind oneself to the possibilities of technology. But it's even easier to go blind AND deaf when discussing new technologies. In my Twitter stream, I saw a new blog entry announcing 4 ways to use Pinterest in the Classroom. Having written many of these kinds of blog entries myself, I am as guilty as they in embracing new, cool technologies for use in K-16 classrooms.

Yet, there just seems to be something wrong when we embrace technologies that cost an inordinate amount of precious taxpayer money, as opposed to a fly-by-night "Web 2.0" site that may or may not endure the test of time. Am I the only one who thinks we should stop reaching for the coolest, most popular app delivery platform, and instead revisit what our fundamental mission is? And, if you end up with the cool tools, at least, you'll know it was because you started with what you wanted to accomplish rather than what the marketing and salesmen for a technology encouraged you to try.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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