Teachers Face Cost Barriers for New Classroom Apps

As the cost for creating classroom apps rise, schools and teachers struggle to pay for technology that was once free. Adoption of ed tech apps could fall because teachers don't have discretionary budgets to pay for them.

by Dale Denwalt, The Oklahoman / September 4, 2019
Once free teaching apps are now costing educators and schools money, for which they don't have the discretionary funds. (Shutterstock)

A proposed South by Southwest panel led by a University of Oklahoma educator would explore difficulties in creating and paying for classroom-based apps.

The apps face two major cost barriers, said Terri Cullen, associate professor in the educational psychology department. Teachers might not be able to afford quality apps, and it’s often difficult for schools to take that cost on themselves.
 
That, Cullen said, can lead app developers to abandon the market.
 
“I’ve been really concerned about this idea that I’ve seen in ed tech, because we have a lot of people buying devices and the teachers say, ‘If it’s not free, then I can’t use it,’” she said.
 
For example, the creative content software Padlet was introduced as a free service that was popular among teachers. Eventually the company implemented a pricing plan to help pay for costly server space, Cullen said, although the most basic version of the software remains free. “There’s some several businesses that I know that were app developers who had to get out of this business because they couldn’t make enough money,” she said.
 
Many apps were initially funded by angel investors, which allowed the apps to remain a low-cost or free option for schools. But investors need an exit, which requires profitable revenue, and Cullen said it appears that the market isn’t built to sustain many of the useful tools that teachers need.
 
“I worried that as we look forward, if we don’t have either teachers and school districts being willing to pay for some of the software, or investors invest in them, we’re not going to continue to innovate education, which we desperately need,” she said.
 
If teachers can’t afford the apps, it falls on the schools to pay for it. That creates the second barrier if schools don’t understand how to implement the technology or can’t fit the pricing schemes into their budget cycle.
 
These problems led Cullen to propose a panel discussion at South by Southwest EDU, an education-focused conference linked to the popular music and technology conference held each year in Austin.
 
Her proposal is one of more than 1,700 proposed for the four-day conference.
 
Event staff and their programming committee will now review the applications and decide which panels are selected before the conference in March.
 
Cullen’s panel, titled “Educational Developers Can Eat Too,” would include representatives from Tulsa-based Steelehouse Productions and app developers Morphi and Half Full Nelson.
 
Half Full Nelson began developing learning games alongside researchers. Founder Andrew Nelson said the educational market is hard for indie developers to reach.
 
While legacy curriculum publishing houses have traditional paths to getting paid or offering a free app alongside their books, it’s not enough just to make a good app.
 
“Any price that isn’t free can be a deal-breaker to adoption because the majority of teachers don’t have a discretionary budget to make such purchases,” Nelson said. “Additionally, their devices are likely to be managed by an IT department.
 
“So you need to excite the teachers, but unless you’re getting adoption above the classroom level it’s very difficult to scale.”
 
At least three other Oklahomans submitted proposals for South by Southwest EDU.
 
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©2019 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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