Universities Figuring Out The Value Of Giving Away Content For Free

from the economics-lessons dept

It started with universities giving away all their courseware online for free, but recently some universities have started posting videos of all lectures for free on YouTube as well. This has some folks wondering what that means about the value of a university education. Andy Kessler does a nice job breaking down the details of what he calls "YouTube U.", noting that it plays directly into the economics of free content. The content itself, once recorded, is the infinite good -- but the scarce good remains the actual diploma of having successfully made it through the courses and the tests to prove that you had an acceptable level of understanding. While he then jokingly (right, Andy?) suggests that a more conspiratorial answer is that it's a professor's way of being lazy and focusing on the parts of being a professor that bring in money (research, consulting) he may not be that far off. Professors will embrace such things because if they really are good professors it does help build their own brand, which can help them in many ways, from getting grant money to getting better grad student researchers to many other things. And the fact that it can do all that while also helping many people who aren't attending the school learn about whatever topic is being taught seems like a pretty good deal.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 10:43am

    Yes, more free stuff. Why can't everything in our capitalist society be free?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:01am

    Yeah, let's feed the middle men. And give them monopoly on distribution... Have you been to Russia lately? Aside from Allofmp3 it's like RIAA's are running everything else.

     

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    RandomThoughts, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:37am

    After just reading a report that college costs are going up even more, seems like the Universities could do something to capture revenue from this to help offset increased costs so in the end they can lower the cost they charge students.

    Of course, I doubt that will ever happen.

     

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    Amber D. Evans, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:46am

    I support

    I wrote about this already in my blog: http://amsdiane.blogspot.com/2007/10/uc-berkeley-launches-youtube-channel.html

    The idea of making lectures available for free isn't anything new. I agree with Masnick's observation that, yes, it can help a professor "brand" his work and bolster (the perception?) of his expertise in the field. In many ways, we've seen this with Mike Wesch of Kansas State University and his DigitalEthnography project. Think about this: if teachers are giving their lectures and the like away for free on YouTube for anyone to download and learn from, it also frees them up from droning on in large classes ... and could even give them an opportunity to actually teach during those 50+ minutes instead.

     

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    Josh, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 2:42pm

    A Good Idea

    I think just putting out lectures so that people can see them and have a sense of what happens in universities is a great idea. So many people go into to university not quite knowing what to study, what they're interested in, etc. so free lectures can let people see what goes on in university classrooms. This would mean people make (hopefully) better decisions, which is good all around.

     

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    Andrew M, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 2:43pm

    Re: I support

    But that is where the line is blurred. Most of those so-called professors believe that their 1-4 hours of "droning" is teaching. Availability of lectures on school servers is one thing, but open public, availability for all is another. It stinks of further laziness of the professors and further erodes the value of our 'higher' education from schools of 'so-called' higher learning. On the other hand, once the professor starts spouting off topic comments, like global warming in an calculus class or Islamic practices in a Telecommunications Theory class, then they viewer could just fast fwd through it.

     

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    Brian Hunt, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 5:27pm

    Droning, Teaching, and Branding

    As a "so-called professor" at a large state university I find the comments posted thus far interesting, telling, and entertaining. For those who have experienced professors "droning" on for 1-4 hours, you must have been in a humanities course. As for myself and my physiology colleagues, we are more interested in encouraging critical thinking - that ability to integrate fundamental principles and apply them to a unique situation. In an attempt to promote this, I beg for student discussion in my senior level courses, but get far too little. If the students are reluctant to participate, then what have I left to do for the remainder of the 50 minute class but "drone". Remember, at the university level the students are there by choice. It's not my job to teach them, it's my job to facilitate their learning process. To provide an opportunity for all to learn if they choose. As for "branding", if a professor is actually intentional about this aspect of his/her career, then in my opinion and experience, their lectures will have little value whether they are avaiable digitally or not. In this case, I'd prefer digital access so that I can minimize the pain of sitting through a live lecture.

     

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    Max Powers at http://ConsumerFight.com, Oct 24th, 2007 @ 12:02am

    Lectures on YouTube is great

    Watching a lecture on YouTube is not replacing an education from any university. How could this possibly hurt? It might encourage people to enroll if anything.

    Does any student feel they were cheated by others viewing a lecture that they had to pay for as part of their education? If so, they are not learning very much.

     

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    PaulT, Oct 24th, 2007 @ 1:22am

    Good thing all around

    There's nothing wrong with this. Professors get to promote both themselves and the university - students can check out the quality of both the lectures and the lecturer before applying for a particular school or course. Better professors bring in more applicants who actually want to sit their classes.

    Students can both get a head start in studying a course if they wish, and catch up with lectures they missed if necessary without having to depend on someone else's notes. People thinking of going to college can get a realistic view of what higher education actually entails.

    Meanwhile, it remains a requirement to actually attend college and pass classes to obtain the qualifications so the largest 'paid for' benefit - the diploma. It's a win-win situation.

     

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    chris (profile), Oct 25th, 2007 @ 5:59am

    class time is finite.

    why not record the lecture and put it where students can get to it from anywhere (youtube) so you can spend class time doing all that cool stuff you never have time for.

    we do this at the medical school i work for. we podcast many lectures and make the power points available online. that way class time is freed for discussion and other work.

    which would you rather do in class, listen to a lecture that you can listen to on your own time (with the added ability to pause and rewind) or work with the professor and other students on other, more interactive activities?

     

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  11.  
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    Silent Bob, Oct 25th, 2007 @ 10:49am

    Re: class time is finite.

    >>which would you rather do in class, listen to a lecture that you can listen to on your own time (with the added
    >>ability to pause and rewind) or work with the professor and other students on other, more interactive activities?

    I'd rather be taking bong hits.

     

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