If Free is Expected, Define “Value”

It is a little known fact that nothing will get me doing the Air Guitar faster than Dire Straits and Sting’s “Money for Nothing“. And thanks to Songza, I can pull this song and many others up on demand for free when ever I am in the mood.

Anyway, that thought of “Money for Nothing” popped in my head when I saw this video created by Tony Hirst and brought to my attention by following the tag “edupunk” in delicious:

One slide says “Free is Expected”. “Free” has numerous meanings:



enjoying personal rights or liberty, as a person who is not in slavery: a land of free people.


pertaining to or reserved for those who enjoy personal liberty: They were thankful to be living on free soil.


existing under, characterized by, or possessing civil and political liberties that are, as a rule, constitutionally guaranteed by representative government: the free nations of the world.


enjoying political autonomy, as a people or country not under foreign rule; independent.


exempt from external authority, interference, restriction, etc., as a person or one’s will, thought, choice, action, etc.; independent; unrestricted.


able to do something at will; at liberty: free to choose.


clear of obstructions or obstacles, as a road or corridor: The highway is now free of fallen rock.


not occupied or in use: I’ll try to phone her again if the line is free.


exempt or released from something specified that controls, restrains, burdens, etc. (usually fol. by from or of): free from worry; free of taxes.


having immunity or being safe (usually fol. by from): free from danger.


provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment: free parking; a free sample.


given without consideration of a return or reward: a free offer of legal advice.


unimpeded, as motion or movement; easy, firm, or swift.


not held fast; loose; unattached: to get one’s arm free.


not joined to or in contact with something else: The free end of the cantilever sagged.


acting without self-restraint or reserve: to be too free with one’s tongue.


ready or generous in giving; liberal; lavish: to be free with one’s advice.


given readily or in profusion; unstinted.


frank and open; unconstrained, unceremonious, or familiar.


unrestrained by decency; loose or licentious: free behavior.


not subject to special regulations, restrictions, duties, etc.: The ship was given free passage.


of, pertaining to, or characterized by free enterprise: a free economy.


that may be used by or is open to all: a free market.


engaged in by all present; general: a free fight.


not literal, as a translation, adaptation, or the like; loose.


uncombined chemically: free oxygen.


traveling without power; under no force except that of gravity or inertia: free flight.


Phonetics. (of a vowel) situated in an open syllable (opposed to checked).


at liberty to enter and enjoy at will (usually fol. by of): to be free of a friend’s house.


not subject to rules, set forms, etc.: The young students had an hour of free play between classes.


easily worked, as stone, land, etc.


Mathematics. (of a vector) having specified magnitude and direction but no specified initial point. Compare bound1 (def. 9).


Also, large. Nautical. (of a wind) nearly on the quarter, so that a sailing vessel may sail free.


not containing a specified substance (often used in combination): a sugar-free soft drink.


(of a linguistic form) occurring as an independent construction, without necessary combination with other forms, as most words. Compare bound1 (def. 11).


without cost, payment, or charge.



in a free manner; freely.


Nautical. away from the wind, so that a sailing vessel need not be close-hauled: running free.

–verb (used with object)


to make free; set at liberty; release from bondage, imprisonment, or restraint.


to exempt or deliver (usually fol. by from).


to relieve or rid (usually fol. by of): to free oneself of responsibility.


to disengage; clear (usually fol. by from or of).

—Verb phrase


free up,


to release, as from restrictions: Congress voted to free up funds for the new highway system.


to disentangle: It took an hour to free up the traffic jam.



for free, Informal. without charge: The tailor mended my jacket for free.


free and clear, Law. without any encumbrance, as a lien or mortgage: They owned their house free and clear.


free and easy,


unrestrained; casual; informal.


excessively or inappropriately casual; presumptuous.


make free with,


to use as one’s own; help oneself to: If you make free with their liquor, you won’t be invited again.


to treat with too much familiarity; take liberties with.


set free, to release; liberate; free: The prisoners were set free.


with a free hand, generously; freely; openhandedly: He entertains visitors with a free hand.

I freely lifted (but referenced) these 49 definitions of “free” to make the point that free means different things to different folks…and so I am not sure which definition applies to the “FREE IS EXPECTED” slide. No cost? Exempt from authority or rules? Open access? Unrestrained?

I am the first to agree that – as Mike Wesch’s video pointed out, lots of concepts need reconceptualizing in a Web 2.0 world. I also have built a solid personal learning network by taping in to the numerous free sources on the web. I believe that I am a better scholar because I freely share my ideas and gain from others who do the same. Yet, my buddy Bud Deihl – with his fine arts background – noted this morning that free is nice, but how does one pay the bills if everything is given away? Good question (that I hope he blogs about), and it raises issues of “value” to what we are giving away.

MIT gives away its course material, but that access does not make you an MIT graduate. The value of the MIT education comes from the interactions between students, faculty and content, not the content alone. (…and MIT students pay significant dollars to be MIT graduates). So defining value in a free system seems related to the context. Web 2.0 has opened up a free exchange globally, and I know that I value the interactions I have internationally through Twitter and blogging. I also know that it took time to gain an appreciation of that value – it was not evident initially. If the edublogging community had not freely participated and given of themselves, I would not now have these connections that I use to create knowledge.

But…for the thousands of us blogging in our restricted networks, there are only a few superstars like a Will Richardson or Alan Levine who could make a living from this…and I am not sure they are quiting their day jobs! Free is expected…but I am assuming institutions of higher education are going to continue charging tuition (and paying professor salaries!). You really cannot get Money for Nothing. When it comes to knowledge creation, though, I like the idea that our students should be free to find and create content that helps us all grow.

What are your thoughts? Should “free” be expected? And what does that mean to the design of learning opportunities in your classes?

One thought on “If Free is Expected, Define “Value”

  1. Kia ora Britt

    Free is a strange word. Let me take an example of its use from my experience.

    I have two very fine mates, Dave and Hayden (among many) whom I share a pint or two with from time to time. It may be months, weeks or just a few days between our get-togethers, but there is always something special there when we have a natter.

    We go to a club. I pay my membership. That’s not free. We buy each other rounds and never keep a tally. But the beer’s not free. True, the warm and congenial surroundings have to be paid for and we pay for that through part of the cost of the beer.

    Yet if the only things we paid for was all that we experienced, it wouldn’t really be worth the money, at least, I wouldn’t buy it. No mater how plush the decor is, who wants to sit drinking beer on their own?

    So what is the value that we get out of our get-togethers? I wouldn’t miss such an opportunity for the world. It’s priceless.

    But what does it cost? A curmudgeon might say that it costs what we pay for the beer. Of course, that’s arguable since the beer is good and worth the money paid for it and so is the venue. They certainly aren’t overpriced.

    So if it’s agreed that the beer and the venue are worth the tin then it could be argued that the company is free. To some people, that may be a conundrum.

    How could something that’s valued as being ‘priceless’ be free?

    Ka kite

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