Logo Cost of Free
















About the Cost of Free Project

Cost of Free was a group project created for EPS 415, Technology and Educational Reform, Summer 2010 for Professor Nicholas Burbules. The course is a required course in the online Master's program CTER at the University of Illinois. The team members are from Illinois, Toronto and the British Virgin Islands.

Dollar in a BoxWhy the Cost of Free?

Although most teachers have heard of terms like open source, shareware and freeware, many are not aware of the differences between them. With the rise of Web 2.0, many companies have begun to market their software with a freemium business model. (Freemium is a combination of the words free and premium.) Sometimes the companies start out with a free model to build up their customer base, before introducing the premium option at a later date. The company offers a free version of their software to all, hoping that a significant number will want more and pay for a premium version.

Developments with Ning illustrate the importance of understanding what is at stake when adopting a so-called free product. Ning is a social networking platform that has become popular in education. Somewhat like facebook in the way it can be used, it provides a platform to communicate and collaborate in a user determined network and is an example of freemium. Early in 2010, Ning announced that they were moving to a completely pay service. Taken totally off guard, many educators were up in arms because they had extensive materials and sites and many did not have the resources to pay a premium price. After much uproar, Ning relented and found a sponsor - Pearson Education - to subsidize educational use.

First reports were that only K-12 could be sponsored, but later all educational sites could apply. Educational site owners needed to apply before August 20, 2010 to have Pearson approve their site for the Mini version of Ning. A Pearson representative wouldl then request membership to the group, and agree to sponsor the site for up to three years. The approved sites would have Pearson branding. Those who do not apply had their sites removed.

The Ning example illustrates how educators can put much effort into developing a complex site. While users may seem to have a free and secure site, as long as the user's information, content and access are in the hands of a company there are no guarantees that their site and information will be there tomorrow or cost-free the next.


Our group investigated the meaning of the term "free",and defined and reported on the differences between
• open source/free software
• shareware
• freeware
• free with advertising models
• freemium

Key Questions:

We answer these questions:

1. What are the differences between the different types of free software?
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type for educators?
3. What is the real cost of free for each category?
4. How can these different types of software be used in education?
5. What are the implications of collaboration and sharing on copyright?

We also report on Free Culture/Open Source Movement, Creative Commons, Copyright and CopyLeft and what these terms mean to teachers and students.
We’d also created a repository of examples with analysis and potential methods for use of the various types, a glossary of terms and a page with links to the best blogs, wikis and websites for education. Because each member of the team teaches a different area and age group, the project created an opportunity to investigate resources that would be helpful to the members in their future teaching while at the same time providing a good overall resource to other teachers and students.

NOTE: As we had predicted there is a cost of free! The comprehensive work on this website was originally posted on Wikispaces at https://cost-of-free.wikispaces.com/ It survived there free for 8 years until Wikispaces announced their closure in July 2018. Not wanting all this work to be lost, the pages were painstakingly re-created here by Karen Hamilton in July 2018 during summer holidays! So much for holidays and "free" sites!

Next up:Open Source and Free Software