We are now a week or so out from ISTE 2010 and those of us who attended have had some time to think about the experience. Over the years, I have probably personally received more benefit from strolling through the giant vendor area than attending sessions. It is just a convenient way to see what is available.
The last couple of years I have begun to feel a little sorry for those attempting to interest schools in purchasing their software and online services – particularly those focused on learning experiences in contrast to assessment or filtering. The problem I see is what might be called the free option – a similar opportunity, typically online, that costs schools nothing beyond Internet access.
There are great companies out there with dedicated developers (some of whom we know) who really do have great products.
The challenge comes from companies that offer free opportunities to develop web sites, store and share images, or interact with others. These are general purpose participatory opportunities that can be tailored to learning goals.
So, what advantage might the companies attempting to sell software and services have. Perhaps their products can be customized to learners or learning. When it comes to desktop authoring products, this may be the case. To some extent, companies do not have “low end” products that offer fewer features at a significantly lower price. For example, there is no such alternative to Dreamweaver from Adobe. Perhaps, the companies could offer targeted professional development, a community focused on education, and educational examples from which educators might draw ideas for their own classrooms.
I think that service and focus are what the education-focused companies attempt to do, but the companies offering “free” also are aware of the opportunity to encourage use of their products and services in the classroom. For example, Google offers online opportunities for educators (Google for Educators) and has recognized the appeal of developing committed individuals who might then have opportunities to train colleagues (Teacher Academy). Other services have less corporate backing (e.g., Flickr), but educational user groups or individuals function in a similar manner.
I can’t say that I really have solutions, but I do hope there are enough niche opportunities that financial opportunities for innovation remain.