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Introduction to The Cost of Free
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Juan Mann - Free Hugs Campaign. Click to See the Video that 74 million have viewed


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)

The Purpose of Cost of Free


In order to help educators understand the different types of resources available, the Cost of Free project will attempt to define the meaning of “free” and explain how others have used, and are using, the term. The project analyzes the different types of free materials available to educators and learners (Open Source Software, Free Software, Freeware, Shareware, Free with Advertising and Freemium) as well as examines the implications of their use in education so that educators can utilize the tools of this generation and make wise educational choices. The project aspires to be a go-to repository for the different types of free software available for education.

Educators also need to be aware that although free resources represent a potential goldmine, they can also be a minefield. Everything - even free- comes with a price. By providing a detailed evaluation template for the various criteria to be considered when adopting free solutions, the project enables educators to improve their ability to make wise decisions.

Additionally, the project outlines the evolution of the Free Culture and the Open Source movements, Creative Commons and Copyright /CopyLeft licensing, including an assessment of their relevance to teachers and students. The digital era has blurred the boundaries of copyright. This project hopes to provide insight into the debate on what needs to be free.

To navigate the pages users can either take a step by step journey or jump in anywhere, sampling a little from here or there.

We hope you have a happy and enlightened journey….Welcome to The Cost of Free!


Find out more about us on About the Cost of Free or go directly to Open Source and Free Software






Cost of Free is a group project created for EPS 415, Technology and Educational Reform, Summer 2010 for Professor Nicholas Burbules. The course is a required course in the online Master's program CTER at the University of Illinois. The team members are from Illinois, Toronto and the British Virgin Islands. Cost of Free Team: Karen Hamilton, Debbie Plested, Mary Rezk, Andrew Jenkinson and Emily Brand.