Wednesday, December 24, 2008

If it's free, why pay for it?

Back to instructional & educational technology during the winter break.

Over the past few months a number of things have happened:

1.
We've seen IT departments bitten by the budget shortfall bug, and IT departments are looking at how they can be lean and mean.

2. We've seen colleges contemplating stopping services like email that students can get for free and often have prior to entering college.

3. Boston College actually stopped providing new incoming students with email addresses

4. UMass Boston ended its "email for life" for students, so when a student graduates they have some period of time to request a permanent email, or else it goes buh-bye!


5.
Finally, UMass Boston announced that it started a blog network (based on the WordPress platform)



Now, the one thing that comes to mind is this: if it's free, why provide the service in house? This is of course in reference to the blog network, and to student email to some degree. Many of us have been using blogs in higher education for a while now, the concept of blogging for educational, personal or professional reasons is not new to us. Some of us (like me for instance) evangelize and let people know of the uses and misuses of blogs so that others may start (or choose not to start) a blog of their own.

Blog providers are many. Google (blogger), WordPress, Tumblr, TypePad, Vox, and LiveJournal are just some of the names of free (or in the case of TypePad for pay) services that people have access to. Why pay to maintain a blog network on campus when things are already setup for you, for free, elsewhere? My modest recommendation would be to focus efforts on training and outreach to let people know that blogging software exists for free, and train people on how to use it. In addition, I would say that effort is better spent creating a blog aggregator for people to list all college related blogs in one place. A good example of this is Sync.gr, an aggregator of Greek blogs.

Now of course the benefits of having it in-house, are such that by focusing on one platform:
1. people can log-in with their university credentials so they don't have to remember yet another username/password,
2.training/troubleshooting can be handled by the help-desk because they don't need to know multiple platforms,
3. and you don't need to do anything other than logging in and writing (whereas with my model you would have to take one more step to list your blog in the university directory).
It's all half a dozen of this, or six of the other. In the end, the question remains, if it's free, why pay for it?


The second thing is email. I've seen lost of students (myself included) who don't check their student email! I have mine forwarding to mail gmail, but many students don't, thus missing out on important notifications from the campus and their professors.

Many students, like me, feel that they don't need another email because they have one yahoo, another on hotmail, and yet another on gmail, and they check them daily, why add another email? Yes you do have FURPA to worry about, and whether or not something does get to the recipient (or ends up in a spambox) but aren't those risks that you take on if you forward email?

Before email was ubiquitous (and free!), it made sense for universities to provide student email (oh VAX...those were the days...), but in today's world it seems like an necessary expense.

Now an email with an @yourCollege.edu does have its benefits. For instance people can signup for value added services which are free, if you have an EDU email, how does one reconcile that with students coming to college with an existing email? I don't have an answer - just thinking out loud. I just know that most students aren't checking their email and there may be a better way than what we, as academia, have been doing for a while now.

I think it's time to think in the Not Invented Here way of though for some things :-)
blog comments powered by Disqus