Web Apps for Education (in a Time of Financial Constraint)
There always has, or should have, been a desire among schools to get value for money from their ICT purchases. I guess this is even more important nowadays in a climate of financial constraint. There has always been the desire though to balance financial commitment with getting the best for the learners. The best has not always proven to be the most expensive, or perhaps I should say that the most expensive services on offer have not always been the best.
We work in the world of education and I’m sure we would all appreciate suppliers offering their products and services, recognising this. Schools are not generally industries or services that utilise software and hardware to make money or to enable them to run more efficiently. Schools use software and ICT services to enable learning to take place. Whilst we do not object to people and companies making money, if they are offering their products within the education market, I think it only reasonable that we expect them to offer them in the spirit of education and not simply for the purpose of making a quick buck.
Recent years have witnessed the increase in services and products offered via the web. Not all of these have been aimed at schools but many are certainly useful for schools to use. Many of these products are free or have a free service, often with restrictions. Schools have certainly been looking at these and many are making use of them; that is where they are not blocked by overzealous filtering.
Where increasing bandwidth and download speeds are available, these web applications are proving very useful. Though, where connectivity remains poor the use of web tools can be problematic especially for large files such as video or music.
One major problem with web based applications has been that you cannot always rely upon them remaining available. There have been numerous instances of useful applications appearing but later being withdrawn and, more commonly, of applications starting out as ‘free’ but later becoming a paid-for or subscription service. An application may be withdrawn if development funding is insufficient, if development work proves too difficult or if it fails to attract sufficient users. In some cases, a company developing and offering a free service might be bought up by another company, which no longer wishes to offer the free service. Even where a service develops from a free one to a paid one, there is often, though not always, a basic free service which users may be able to continue using.
Users of free web-based services should always be aware of the possibility of the service changing in its nature and should ensure that critical work is not vulnerable to loss or future charges. Of course, there is always the possibility that the usefulness of the free service is clearly demonstrated to the school and that you may wish to take full advantage of the service by moving to the paid for service at a later date. In this way, the web based services might be seen as a form of ‘shareware’ in which you are allowed a free trial before parting with any money. In this way, web based apps may have an economic advantage for schools compared to commercial software packages.
Another aspect of web based applications is that they are usually available to users from any location. Pupils can use the application in school and continue their work at home. This is useful for a teacher setting course work in that they know the pupils each have equality of access to the same tools, provided they have a computer and connectivity at home. Web based applications are usually device independent, some will also work on handheld devices, so a teacher need not be concerned if a pupil has a Mac or even a Linux device at home or school rather than a PC.
Not only is location independence significant for work between school and home, it can also be significant globally in that pupils from across the world can work on the same web based application. This can lead to work being shared with other users around the world and be used to support collaborative projects across cultures and time barriers.
This collaborative aspect is an important one for it demonstrates that even in times of financial constraint, we are still able to extend education across new boundaries by using educational technology.