RefME, EdTech Europe and Licensing.

Last week I was asked to give a keynote speech at EdTech Europe 2015 where I also picked up the #EdTech20 award for best EdTech company in Europe on behalf of the RefME team, recognising our “significant innovation and growth”since we launched less than a year ago.

The brief was to talk about something positive and forward-looking, but, well… I ended up talking about something negative that annoys me right now.

See, I have a beef with Institutional licensing agreements. This is because they normally come with a exclusivity lock-in, meaning ‘this institute has to use x, nothing but x and if you use y, we may just take you to court’. Okay, so what is the problem? Surely RefME should follow this same approach if we want to keep away the competition and own the market? We could, but then, that would be derogatory both to education and to technology.

See, the fact is that what works for student A, doesn’t necessarily work for student B. From an educational standpoint, it is as simple as that. An educational utility should be free so that students can choose which tool they want to use. What tool gives them the best academic practice and ultimately helps them do best should not be hidden behind a paywall or shackling their institute with a rigid licensing agreement. In the real world, if you don’t like Google, you can use DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, Bing or any other service. You have that choice. Institutional licensing agreements don’t give students that same freedom.

My second issue is on behalf of technology. Licensing lock-ins mean that the technology students are using today is the same as they were using five years ago. And five years is a SERIOUSLY long time when it comes to technology.  RefME added nearly 1 million users since launching last September, that’s how fast things move in the tech world, and that’s as a direct result of developing and iterating our product at breakneck speed. What millennial who has grown up with the beautiful UI of Instagram or the iPhone’s slick UX is going to be prepared to use a piece of redundant software which is effectively 5 years out of date? this 5 year old redundant software? And the point is, they shouldn’t be asked to.

I am pretty proud of the approach we at RefME have taken and I hope others will follow. For a $200 set up fee, an entire Institute can be given the best citation tool in the world. Students do already have it for free, but RefME Institute will provide a support package back to the Institute helping them provide the best tool possible. We do plan on introducing new tools further down the line, but that is up to the institute to support, not the student. For the individual, RefME will always be free, because we believe that educational tools like this are a right of every student on the planet, and their access to them should not depend on how much money they, or their schools happen to have.
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