Web 2.0 culture

In previous posts I argued that as teachers, we should be prepared to give our content away for free. There are two reasons for this. One is to benefit those learners worldwide who wish to learn from you and need to see your content. Secondly, it is so you can reap the exponential rewards the social web offers. In Giving it all away I showed how offering free online access to your ideas and works actually increases your audience size. Licensing your content under a Creative Commons agreement that allows for repurposing or remixing provides an opportunity and invitation for others to translate your slides or blogposts into another language. Several of my posts and slideshows have been translated into Spanish, which opens up vast new audiences in South America I can share my ideas with, with no extra effort.

Look at the photograph. There were several images I could have used to illustrate this post, but all were protected by a copyright licence. In doing so those photographers lose the opportunity for their work to be amplified to a larger audience. The image I chose was licenced for free use and remix with attribution, so Noel Hidalgo gets the prize and receives a larger audience for his fabulous picture.  But the ethos of sharing on the social web goes deeper than the act of sharing content. It's also the adoption of a new mindset and a new culture for many professionals - the culture of Web 2.0. By way of explanation, here's an adapted extract from a book I published a couple of years ago:

The introduction of wikis into conservative environments such as classrooms requires all participants to adopt a new culture - one of co-operation and sharing. When they understand they can actually create and share content on a global stage, students can be both excited and daunted. Many of those who welcome the experience are probably in some way already connected into the culture of Web 2.0 and will probably already have accounts on social networking sites such as Facebook. They may be familiar with other media sharing sites such as YouTube or Flickr, and aware of the protocols that are active within these micro-cultures.

Those who are reluctant to share or co-operate, or anxious in some way about posting their content up on the web for all to see, may need to work a little harder to assimilate the culture of Web 2.0. It is only later, when they are more immersed into the Web 2.0 culture, and they have begun to develop the specialist digital literacies which gain them full access into it, that these students begin to understand the power and potential of sharing, co-operation and collaboration. Some never make the transition, and steadfastly refuse to allow their work to be edited by others, preferring instead to protect their ideas and maintain sole ownership over their content.

Canadian academic Brian Lamb once declared that during times of economic challenge, when so many people need access to learning, it seems preverse to hoard knowledge in any form. And yet, in schools, colleges and universities around the globe, there are many teachers and academics who jealously guard their content, as if by doing so they will benefit in some way from their protectionism. They may receive some financial reward, but will they have the satisfaction of knowing that in some way they have also helped other people, without cost? I have a message for such professionals. Change your mind. Choose to share your content openly and freely - it is only through giving it away that you will begin to reap the full rewards of the Social Web. Knowledge is like love. You can give as much away as you like, but you still get to keep it.

Adapted from Wheeler S. (Ed: 2009) Connected Minds, Emerging Cultures: Cybercultures in Online Learning. Charlotte, NC: Information Age. (p. 9).

Image by Noel Hidalgo

Creative Commons License
Web 2.0 culture by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.


There's a difficult balancing act here. It's great to give away your content for free, but it's also nice to be paid for your work. I give away free SAT prep advice online with CC licensing, but I also publish a book of very similar content. Nobody would buy the book without being exposed to my free content--it's a crowded marketplace--but I'm also occasionally chastised for selling something that is available for free online.

Have you read You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier? For all I know, you've posted about it, so forgive my newcomer transgression if that's the case. Anyway, it contains a pretty strong argument against giving everything away for free: the only people who make real money in a give-it-away economy are the aggregators. We're in a transition now, so the first people who give things away for free capture market share, but if everyone starts giving away everything for free, the results aren't what I think most content creators would consider success.
Steve Wheeler said…
Mike, Prof Martin Weller (OU) recently published a book which he gave away for free as an open access volume, but still found a way to sell the contents in another format. I have read Jaron Lanier's volume and also met one-to-one with him in the speaker's lounge at the recent Learning Technologies Conference in London, where we had a conversation about these very issues. While Jaron and I don't agree on each other's ideas about the future of the web, we respect each other's opinions. Following your logic, if everyone *does* give away everything for free, those few refusing to do so will be in danger of becoming isolated and irrelevant.
That's true. I guess it comes down to which improbable future vision one prefers: the one where most stuff is free, or the one where most stuff isn't. Neither is all that attractive to me, but I can't help thinking that the ubiquity of free content doesn't really benefit the content creator very much.

I don't dispute that large audiences can have value outside of monetary value, nor do I dispute the fact that some people still make very good livings on the content they produce and give away for free. But there are a lot of phenomenal content creators right now who have huge audiences but are unable to devote themselves fully to the creation of that content because nobody's willing to pay for it. Meanwhile aggregators and content hosts make out incredibly well by providing a platform for others to give away their content, and monetizing it on the margin.

It's a thorny problem, and I think one that we're a long way from figuring out. As philosophers are so fond of saying, there's plenty of room for reasonable people to disagree.
Matthew allen said…
Freedom of content is a fine idea and, at least in Australia, there is a pretty clear consensus that curriculum at universities is not owned in a monetary sense by academics. It belongs to the university. So, I don't mind giving it away, since it is not mine.

I am more interested in your ideas in collaboration, not in the sense of group or team work, but in getting students to share what they do while learning and being assessed individually. We have had excellent results from this approach over several years in my department. Yet I don't know if it is web 2.0, it may be, but it is less about technologies per we and more about a social structure for learning which reassures students that they are not vulnerable, and demonstrates the value to them of heir learning. Online publishing tools significantly aid this, but don't of themselves make it happen.
Norman said…
Steve, I am admirer of your blog and views, they are very thought-provoking. But I simply can't get my head around working long hours producing a manual system for a particular discipline to use, then giving it away, as much as I get a frisson of pleasure from the thought of it. I can see beyond the simple transaction to the greater potential with the propagation of my ideas and views. The trouble is, it won't feed me or put a 30" Apple Cinema screen on my desk.

On a side note, I love your blog theme, I don't suppose you would mind sharing it, would you? ;-)

Student: MAODE - OU
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comment Norman. I guess many of us who are giving our content away for free do so because of the joy of doing so and also knowing that there is a great need out there for more free Learnng materials. Just that is enough payment, and I'm also in a position where I have enough other income to enable e to pay my bills. I acknowledge that not everyone is in a similar position, but even so, any small thing that people can give away will be rewarded by the appreciation of those who need it.

Popular Posts