Sustainable Web Resources

A current trend I see in instructional technology is the disappearance or limitation of free web tools for education.  For the last few years we have benefited from the availability of many free services.  Even paid sites offered a fremium model with limited features available to educators.  As schools buy fewer textbooks and print materials in the future, a few things will likely happen.

  • Textbook companies will have to make their money without printing anything (similar to record companies when MP3 players and peer-to-peer file sharing appeared on the scene).
  • Textbooks companies will have to redefine the textbook and update their content regularly to compete with existing web content.  The concept of using the same textbook for six to ten years is unrealistic.
  • Companies offering web-based tools and content will continue to compete for the money that was once spent on textbooks.
  • As educational start-ups run out of initial investor money, they are going to have start charging to stay in business (and the investors are going to expect a profit).
  • Traditional textbook companies may buy sites offering free content and services.  At that point, they may either start charging for those services or shut down the site completely to eliminate the competition posed by the site.
  • Any website offering free content or services may be bought out, shut down, re-purposed, or redesigned at any time with little to no notice.

Although we can not do anything to reverse this trend, we can plan ahead for a time when free will be the exception rather than the expectation.  If you have been following the recently passed legislation on Net Neutrality, you understand there is an intentional effort to monetize digital services, access, and content across the entire Internet–not just in education.  As old business models become defunct, companies are struggling to make a profit and compete in a digital economy.  When you add a generation of consumers who have grown accustomed to “sharing” all kinds of digital content (without payment) to the equation, companies are put in the predicament of trying to make a profit without alienating the public by daring to charge for their services.

When this trend collides with the trend of shrinking education funding, we feel the crunch.  It is not enough to expect the gap to be entirely filled with free content available through the Internet (or content supported through distracting or inappropriate advertisements).  Even newspapers are beginning to charge for their articles as print distributions decline.  The Internet is no longer an alternative publishing platform where companies can provide content as an additional access point.  Soon it will be the main access point, where the majority of profit will be made.

In the meantime, utilize as many free resources as you can, and use them for as long as possible while exploring for content and services that will not require payment from the OTMS budget. Realizing that nothing is truly free, the challenge is finding quality content and services that have been funded through other means than the school budget.  The best sources have sustainable funding that will ensure access into the foreseeable future.  Organizations such as public television, public libraries, universities, and consortiums may be the best sources of quality content.  Next week I will discuss some resources available through Mid-Continent Public Library that provide quality content with no cost to the school.

Recommendations from other Faculty Members

Aileen recommends that students use Grammarly to check for grammar errors in their writing. After creating an account, students can copy and paste text into the Grammarly website and see suggested corrections.  There is also a Grammarly Chrome Extension in the Chrome Store that works in Gmail and other websites.

Neil recommends using Sporacle as a review activity.  There are several quizzes available on the site, but anyone can create their own Sporacle Quiz.  The website was not created for classroom use, so there is no way to create classes, assign quizzes, or track scores.  Quizzes can be shared with students through the URL of the quiz.

Matt is currently exploring EdPuzzle as way to assign YouTube and other videos to his students.  Edpuzzle allows teachers to crop and narrate existing YouTube videos as well as add quiz questions at any point in the video.  Students can not continue watching the video until they answer the questions.  Student can not jump ahead or skip through portions of the video either.  Edpuzzle allows teachers to set up classes, and students can join those classes through a class code.  Annotated videos can be assigned to classes, and student progress can be tracked through the website.  Edpuzzle was recently updated to allow YouTube videos assigned through its website to go through school Internet filters.

Seventh grade science students introduced Mrs. Winningham to SkyView Free, a mobile app that locates planets, stars, constellations, and satellites.  Students are using the app as a virtual telescope that labels what they are seeing in the sky based on where the mobile device is pointing.  As you move the phone, the star map changes.