The Curse of Being Free

Brian Lamb recently wrote one of those posts that made me get up from my seat and point frantically at the screen in agreement.

Re: finding a solution for inexpensive course hosting, Brian writes:

This approach is fatally flawed in a number of respects and it will never catch on. For one thing, it is far too cheap, and can never justify escalating technology infrastructure budgets. Worse, instructors and students could adopt this technology with minimal assistance or oversight from instructional technology specialists. In this profoundly unserious framework, there is nothing to prevent students from previewing courses before they take them, or reviewing courses later on. Indeed, some “learner” might benefit from this content without being an enrolled student at all!

The course that I am teaching currently uses a number of free software tools and services, and the content is freely available online. Yet I predict that this approach would not currently go over well with the majority of faculty at my University.

I just read a similar idea in regards to the lack of popularity of GNU/Linux on the desktop. Vlad Dolezal tells the story of Tom Sawyer where he cons his friend into giving away his favourite possessions to have the opportunity of whitewashing a fence. Dolezal concludes:

The above story illustrates a basic human nature. We don’t value things we can get easily. Yet we’d climb mountains, cross rivers and travel across deserts just to reach something we can’t easily get our hands on.

Dolezal talks a bit more about the idea of value and how individuals may perceive value to be less when something is given away. Because Windows as a product is priced at (roughly) $300, it is valued to be worth that cost. If one is to choose between a pirated version of Windows and a free copy of Ubuntu Linux, the cost is the same, but the perceived value is different.

Dolezal comes up with a plan:

I’m going to present Ubuntu as a very expensive posh OS. I’ll mention it sells for upward of five hundred dollars in the States. I’ll say I managed to get an illegal copy off a Polish guy I know over the internet.

Only THEN will I mention all the positives. Multiple desktops, bullet-proof security, stunning visual effects. Somehow all of it makes sense in the context of a super-expensive elitist OS. I’ll see how many people I can convert when advertising Linux this way.

I’ll post exactly a week from now, reporting back on how my Linux Preaching v2.0 went. Hi yo, Silver, AWAAAAY!

Hmmmm. While I believe there are many other reasons for a relatively slow GNU/Linux uptake, these are interesting points. And, it makes me feel that there is some way to solve the problems that Brian has identified.

4 thoughts on “The Curse of Being Free

  1. [riffly_video]FC71C1F2DDDF11DCBBCFD0A456B4F508[/riffly_video]
    Got it to record this time. Thanks for the pointer… still had a bit of audio drop out, but it could be my machine…

  2. Pingback: The Curse of Being Free | Technology

  3. Since 2004 I’ve been using blogs, wikis and other web2.0 goodness, including a (free) site where I can post students’ marks and they can access them privately. I can set up all the capabilities found in a LMS, except the locked down content and registration-limited access, for free or at least for less than a textbook. Of course, these web2.0 sites are useful to students after they leave school in the way an LMS isn’t, and the skills students gain allow them to learn without attending an educational institution. I will add that I have a communications and rhetoric background, and lack technical know-how, so the applications I use are woefully simple. The last time I advocated using some web2.0 apps at a writing teachers’ workshop, the strongest response was a diatribe about students daring to use Wikipedia. If it weren’t for edutech blogs like this, I’d feel crazy for evangelizing for using the communicating and learning possibilities available.

    End of rant! Thanks for the space.

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