Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Free Education

What if education were free? What would it be like if students and families had free access to the best teachers, tutors, curriculum, and pedagogy in the world? Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired magazine, argues in his new book that Free is the future of business, that every business that becomes digital eventually becomes free. Free is not new, but the rise of the Internet Age has created more Free models than ever before. Every two years, bandwidth, storage, and processing have doubled in speed and halved in cost. Lewis Straus, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1953-1958, saw this coming, and at the dawn of the Nuclear Age intuitively predicted that electricity would some day be "too cheap to meter." He was wrong (we still write checks to PG&E every month), but digital bits - replacing material atoms - have become cheap enough that web-based businesses can round down, effectively offering their content and distribution for free (Andersen lists 50 case studies at the end of his book). Google, his number one example, makes its multi-billion dollar fortune by giving away its products for free (think gmail, google docs, and its new Chrome browser), and collects cash - plenty of it - from advertisers.

Anderson gives two Free models of education: free online textbooks and free online lectures. Flatworld Knowledge offers their content free online (and many colleges and universities participate in their archived catalog). They only have business and economics books now, but math, science, humanities and social science textbooks are coming soon. University of California, Berkeley, and Massachussettes Institute of Technology both provide their lectures free online. MIT's Open Courseware offers entire courses - including lectures, exams, and notes - free online, and Berkeley's free webcasts have allowed professors like Dr. Richard Muller to achieve pseudo-celebrity status with his "Physics for Future Presidents" lectures, also freely available on YouTube.

But what if we could offer more? Tutorpedia is currently providing or is in the process of creating the following 10 services free of charge:
Free is the future of business, and Tutorpedia is interested in creating a Free model of Education - to close the achievement gap, improve access to college, and teach better life skills and habits of mind. Our hope is to create exciting, alternative, enriching content that parents, teachers, and students will use online (for free). Then, if and when you want that material taught to you by an expert, we're just a phone call or email away. Our tutors will continue to provide the collaborative relationships, innovative expertise, and holistic vision to do just that.

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