A Case Study in Marketing: The Danger of “Free” (Especially for Public Employees)

My dear faculty friends.  Many of you are on marketing email lists of a number of educational technology companies.  They’ve given you good value for trading your email address for many different incentives at conferences or for webinars or for whitepapers.  They are now descending upon you with “free” offers that might not be as good as they seem in the first place.

Now you are getting exciting announcements that they are offering you free access to their predictive learning or course management platform or free publisher content.  Think twice.  This falls in the free like a puppy category, and it could put you in a great amount of risk.

We are making every effort to provide you with the basic tools you need to meet the needs of your students, and although these other tools may seem to be THE ANSWER TO EVERY PROBLEM IN THE UNIVERSE, they still need to go through all of the contract and data handling review that any software or service requires.

North Carolina has some particular laws with relation to the retention of student course data and any software we use is required to be properly vetted.  And even “free” click-throughs are contracts that you aren’t authorized to enter into on behalf of the university. (See the software policy).  Unfortunately for most of these free products, by the time we are able to get them through the process and have their lawyers and our lawyers align the agreements and check all of their data retention policies, we’ll probably be outside of the window of this particular set of circumstances.

If you absolutely have to move the ball forward we can start the process of getting the software reviewed, but, if I were you, I’d dig into the tools we have before I even considered putting content into a platform that at most will be “free” for 6 months and then will be asking for money.  (For example one of the huge offenders is offering a wonderful platform that when it goes to paid costs on average $10 a student a year, and we don’t have a mechanism for paying for that particular service.)