I am amazed with the ability of companies and education organizations to charge for things that should be free. For instance, I once was on a panel discussion at a conference explaining how my district had adopted the free CK12.org Flexbook model for our High School core subject texts.
For those of you unaware of the CK12 Foundation, they essentially have created a set of textbooks called Flexbooks for the STEM courses in high school and some middle school courses that can modified to suit the student and teacher’s needs. Free textbooks. All sharable. No copyright restrictions.
I also spoke of Rice University and their Open STAX textbooks. Again, free to use, free to share, copyright free and updatable at any time.
After the panel, a gentleman came up to me with his hand out, business card extended and started explaining about how his company had organized as many Open Education Resources (OER) that they could find on Google, and that they could “partner with us” to expand our district OER efforts.
OER resources are freely available resources designed to replace classroom tools that are traditionally paid for, such as textbooks or online simulations. (For those of you not in the know, the phrase “partner with us” means “sell something to you.”) Did you get that? He wanted to sell us free stuff.
There are actual companies that sell free stuff! I was amazed.
This idea of “charging for the free” is not uncommon in education and even in business. There are software companies that sell “their version” of free software or goods.
Got a Samsung smartphone? Congratulations! You are paying Samsung for their version of the free Android operating system created by Google.
Walk into Barnes and Noble and see the “classic” books that are for sale in the front that are also in the public domain. $7.99 for a Tale of Two Cities? It costs about 35 cents to print this because they don’t have to pay the author anything. Just download the file from a site like Project Gutenberg.
There are companies that sell pictures and videos that are freely available from NASA or the Library of Congress that are also free to anyone in the public domain. Want to outsmart the TV “meteorologists?” Just visit the NOAA website and get the exact same free weather forecast that they repackage and present nightly.
Those “Vintage French Posters” for sale at Hobby Lobby and Michael’s? All free, all in the public domain. I suppose you aren’t paying for the content you are getting, but rather the fact that someone organized them or somehow repackaged it out for you.
Paying for the free.
As we head into summer many “we are all about the educator” organizations have their giant conferences that charge large amounts of admission for attendees to view a huge set of free sessions given by volunteer educators that get nothing of any true value as restitution for their time and effort.
Most teachers have been to one or two of those conferences.
I have always felt that this is a problem where GIANT educational organizations make millions of dollars from their conferences on the backbone of freely offered presentations.
I understand that those venues cost money, the keynotes and the actual organizing costs, but really, the cornerstone of those gatherings are the FREE presentations put on by volunteers. The cost should at least be modified for those people yet rarely is it done.
Charging for the free again.
I don’t know how to address this issue of “let us charge you for free stuff” or “let us charge you to present at our conference.” Yes, it is perfectly acceptable if a company or organization sees an unfilled niche and thinks that they can fill it. In fact, that is Capitalism 101. And it is the capitalist dream to make as much cash as you can on a service that people need.
It just seems like something is sort of off if that company doesn’t let the people that they are selling it to know that they are essentially paying for the free.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
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