Many people I’ve met in the university world like to believe that the Internet should be a pool of free content. The tenured radicals often write long defenses calling in a “creative commons” and the students just swap free digital copies of everything. One grad student I met was watching an unreleased version of a new film on her laptop and didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed about what only uncool people call “theft” or “violation of privacy.”
This is changing. Jingying Yang writes from Paris about how some universities are starting to wonder what will happen when all of the courses are available for downloading free. This isn’t just a case of piracy because some universities are giving away the material themselves. Bravo, I say. It’s about time we got something for the huge amount of cash we pump into the system.
But many notice that this isn’t exactly sustainable, especially if more and more students start to take online courses:
“Schools with existing distance education programs could be loath to provide free open courses for fear of losing paying students.”
So what will happen? I suppose that some rich, traditional families will continue to send their kids off to 4 year colleges the same way that rich, traditional people cling to country clubs and old mansions. But the free courseware is going to attract more of the best and the brightest students who will experiment a bit and then discover that it offers just as much faculty interaction as a seat in a 100 student lecture hall. Then things will get very interesting.
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