How is Free Free?

Open educational resources have been the buzz here at BDRA for some time now so I ran a quick search through the stuff stored in my hard drive for anything with the words Open Source in the title. What I am interested in is what motivates people to put out in the World Wide Web for free things that other people normally sell. Why is free free? And why free is free mainly in the world of Internet and software/technology? By the way I’m not counting mobile phone free minutes as free, they are a Machiavellian extortion plot. Still, why does Google give me all the services provided by Google Mail for free? Why does Mozilla come for free? Open Office? Are educational resources (such as course content and delivery) different or similar to Google Mail, Open Office and my free WAV to MP3 decoder? What does free mean?

MIT’s OpenCourseWare is probably the best known example of open educational content. Recently I came across this resource, which I like much better:

http://academicearth.org/

It is a portal, an online hub for videos of university lectures and other educational content. Last time I checked, its first page offered a full video course on The American Novel since 1945 by a Yale academic, a course on Classical Mechanics from MIT which I can only describe as super cool (featuring the professor swaying on a swing in a big lecture hall) and a lecture on political science by the author of The World Is Flat Thomas Friedman. Some of the courses (not all) come with the exam papers and solutions to the exam questions. Truth be told, most of the content is lectures rather than complete courses. And the institutions participating in the project are names that need not fear that prospective students would, instead of enrolling, devour the open educational content and fly to better pastures. Participating institutions are MIT, Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford. Why do institutions participate in initiatives like this? What is the motivation of the institution? Of the author of the content? Well, in the best traditions of adventure movies, I shall leave you with this cliffhanger – watch this space for the answers on the 13th of March (to add to the drama, it will be Friday 13th….).

And if you are interested in cool applications and gadgets for free, these people offer The Best of selection:

http://www.webappers.com/

Sandra, BDRA 

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