Sunday, July 05, 2009

Gag Me with a Freeconomics

Vander Ark:

So, who pays for all of this free stuff? Education has the benefit of substantial philanthropic support—both non-profit and for-profit organizations have and will benefit from foundation grants. But the innovations likely to achieve scale and impact will have a business model behind them. In this regard, Wireless Generation is showing the way; they launched FreeReading.net, an open primary reading curriculum supported by fee-based assessment and training.

Here's an alternate vision: philanthropy and government grantmaking shifts it conceptual frame from funding non-profit and for-profit organizations to create proprietary information, to funding the growth and maintenance of an information commons. Why can't I access the planning, training, learning materials developed by KIPP, Big Picture Company, New Teacher Project, TFA, Green Dot, Harlem Success, etc? They're all non-profits, as far as I know none of them are dependent on licensing their IP to fund their operations, and they all get or have gotten a substantial amount of philanthropic and/or government funding. What if sharing their work had been a condition of their funding all along? What if leaders in philanthropy and government chose to switch to this path?

Institutions the size of our major grantmaking foundations, states, and the federal government can and should (and will, eventually) pay people to write freely licensed content for schools.

We don't need people taking a platform approach in the "Hey, I've got a website where you can park your textbooks or lesson plans or learning objects." It's nice to have, but that's not the problem. It isn't hard or expensive to host files.

You don't create sustainability around "free" and "open" resources by significantly limiting their use to eek out a few nickles to keep your webservers running. This is the Internet! You let people make copies, download the source, study it, reuse it, redistruibute it, and build their own businesses around the resources. That's what makes an information commons robust and sustained.

5 comments:

Mike Caulfield said...

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

MrC said...

a thousand and one times yes

John Rodgers said...

Government agencies tend to behave the same as proprietary organizations when they are maintaining and restricting access to content (its the same here in Ontario). Organizations will try to make themselves indispensable, even if it limits their value. However, how many people are available that can write quality free content? If we hire a few here and there, will it generate the necessary size network to grow and be effective?

Tom Hoffman said...

John,

Yes, government, foundations, etc. have been resistant -- that's why we don't have more open educational resources already. In the US right now things are finally starting to give way due to the current fiscal crisis.

The rhetoric around the utopian promise of widely distributed networked peer production, software written by hundreds of altruistic hackers coding away in their basement after work, can actually confuse matters.

Open source projects, even quite important ones, tend to have small core teams that do the bulk of the work, with a larger cloud of people making occasional contributions. In particular, most projects are initiated and driven to an initially usable state by one person or one company.

So the bottom line is that there is no reason in particular that virtually the same people who write proprietary textbooks could be paid to write openly licensed ones. You're just cutting out the middle-man.

John Rodgers said...

That part of the equation is easy enough to understand. The problem is the same people continue to try the same failed idea waiting for a miracle to come. Open textbooks are out there now. The problem is they look and function like all the other proprietary textbooks that are out there. Seldom read. The key to open source is a lot of eyes, and in reality, a lot of ideas. A few isolated practitioners writing but never seeing if anyone will read, or if they do read, if they will learn, will hardly develop the network intelligence required to produce a meaningfully different approach.