Introduction to The Cost of Free
Web 2.0, and its culture of collaboration and sharing, has given rise to a new group of students. No longer just consumers of culture, they are producers of culture. Born into a digital era where everything is social, everything is available, and everything can be shared, they often come into today’s classrooms and experience a kind of culture shock. They find classrooms that look not unlike those of their parents’ time. More underfunded than ever, schools struggle to meet the needs of students and teachers. What is the answer? One answer might well be to look into the culture of sharing and collaboration that is all around, look for what is free or almost free, look to the same place that students are to engage them with the tools of their trade.
Ideological, technological, and economical forces have converged to make the Internet a virtual goldmine of seemingly limitless, authentic, and relevant resources free for the taking. Free resources provide tremendous opportunities for educators and educational institutions. Yet, all free resources are not the same nor is the definition of free as straightforward as it might appear. While most tend to think of free as “without cost” (gratis), others believe passionately in the unencumbered right to free (as in liberated) knowledge. Educators and scholars through the ages have fought to keep cultural knowledge and information free.
The implications of open knowledge and open access to information in education are profound, and perhaps more important than ever in a time when the millennial generation is sharing, remixing, mashing, creating, collaborating and posting; teachers are no longer the gatekeepers to information they once were. As Nicholas Burbules suggests, students have grown up as the participants of self-educating communities with “the ethos of shared information … the spirit of sharing that views the frictionless propagation of information as a good in itself…[and the belief in a] collective intelligence in which the wisdom of the whole can be more than the sum of its parts…In self educating communities [like today’s classrooms] the roles of teacher and student become fluid; most or all participants may regard themselves as students of the ongoing subject matter, and each as potential learners as well as a potential teacher” (Burbules, Self Educating Communities: Collaboration and Learning through the Internet)