A number of months ago, the K12 CS Ed community was abuzz. It seems that Coding Rooms - an online collaboration and coding platform was closing their free teacher tier. I was going to write about it then but didn't get to it.
Some time later, I noticed some complaints about teacher throttling. Again, meant to write but it didn't happen;
The other day though, there was another disturbance in the force as teachers started commiserating about Repl.it closing down the teacher teams part of their platform. This was accompanied with complaints about the nerfing of their free tier which apparently has been ongoing. I thought "wait, didn't this happen already?" but remembered that the earlier one was Coding Rooms.
Now, I never really used Coding Rooms much - when they launched I was mid semester and had already settled in on my tool set. It looked like they had some cool things and at the time, they were talking the "supporting teachers" game but it never made sense for me to switch over to them for my platform.
Twitter? Musk pretty much made it worthless months ago. I'll still pop on at times but mostly what's I'm seeing there is extremist propaganda.
Repl.it is another story. I've played with it on and off for years and used it with my online classes. Rather, I promoted it as a recommended coding platform for my online classes. I never used their teams for education features. Since my classes and I lived through the nerfing of the free repl phase and it wasn't all that bad for us, I guess I haven't really be affected by these changes but at least it's a product I've been using and know fairly well.
On the one hand, this sucks for teachers - particularly the fact that Repl.it just announced the change mid semester. On the other hand, what do you expect for nothing? Rubber Biscuit?
Coding Rooms, Twitter, and Repl.it are all companies working to build market share and make money (okay, maybe not Twitter :-) ). They don't owe anything to any of us for free and there was never any guarantee that free would remain free. If you've been looking we've seen the free tier for web services disappear now for years. It used to be that every API had a free tier. Now you only get a small number of starter credits. Heroku and other hosting sites also used to have free tiers or made it ridiculously easy to get credits. In that sense, the overall writing has been on the wall.
On the other hand, GitHub maintains free services. Free though as in we're not paying money. All our code I'm sure is being used to train their AI. Now, for GitHub, I'm not saying they're better or worse. I used to be a big GitHub supporter - GitHub for Education in particular but now all my friends their are gone so I'm feeling like more of a GitLab guy these days.
Anyway, I also don't blame teachers. Teachers are in an impossible position. They need tools for their kids to work with. Some have been forced to use Chromebooks so no local installations. Others are hampered by internal IT policies, although IT people are frequently misunderstood and demonized, and of course budgets, particularly in public schools are always an issue.
Still, as teachers, we can and probably should do better. We frequently use things because they're convenient rather than right. Most of the chatter I saw about Repl.it was in the assorted CS Ed Facebook groups. Facebook is a closed private platform. Zuck can make some policy decision and it all goes away yet we use it as a community platform because it's convenient. On the other hand, a bit of the discourse was on the APCS ListServ. I think that listserv might be run by the College Board so that's not good, but at least, in theory with a listserv, you've got everyone's email address and can migrate to other platforms.
I'd love to see more of what we do on open source and open platforms. This blog is hosted on GitHub but it's all plain text and built with open source tools. I've got a copy of it all locally and can migrate it or self host it easily. Speaking of blogs, I miss the old days where there were more CS Ed bloggers and more discourse on said blogs. Yes it was more distributed but it was open. Nowadays I rarely see new CS Ed blog posts in my feed which is a shame.
In any event I don't see anything changing - over the last few years, when people I speak to talk about using a new communication platform, they default to Discord. Personally, I've never been a fan of it but in any event, it's another closed silo, so is Slack for that matter.
I lament, but I also know Usenet news is never coming back.
So, that's where we are. Teachers will find another free something and use that for a while, then it will go away. Those that have the resources will use either free or open source tools or in some cases commercial ones but it's doubtful that our schools will ever get the funding they need so that this is no longer an issue.