The British Are Coming! More On Peer-To-Peer Teacher Sites

Over on Twitter the debate continues about the new Share My Lesson (SML) site. Ed Tech expert Doug Levin offers a harsh judgement here.  I think the Twitter discussion is a little confused (140 characters, go figure) so let me try to clear it up from where I sit.

SML and AFT President Randi Weingarten are correct that teachers retain ownership of content they put up on SML. That’s Randi’s main talking point. But it’s only half the story.  The other half is the part where a participant gives up their rights to the content and SML can use it however it wants in perpetuity. The terms of use are unambiguous about that. So teachers sharing lessons and content on SML do not retain exclusive ownership.  That’s a big deal. Weingarten says SML won’t use teacher generated content to make money. But the terms don’t explicitly say that, don’t preclude it, and have strong language that SML can do what it wants with the content.  Meanwhile, SML is a joint venture between the American Federation of Teachers and a large British publishing firm, whose CEO has said in The Times that they, understandably, plan to make money from this venture, which is structured as an LLC not a non-profit. It would be useful to hear more about how they plan to square that circle and the terms of the deal. Advertising? Using the platform as a sales channel? As I wrote yesterday, Weingarten’s statements and the CEO’s are not incompatible but more explanation would be helpful given the inescapable irony.

I don’t have a dog in this fight and think that considering how hard it has been for most peer-to-peer teacher sites to get traction and regular ongoing usage it’s good to see multiple ideas out there. And this one apparently does well in the U.K.  Let the market see what works and what teachers, schools, and school districts prefer. The various providers all have different angles on this, brand, profit, and social networking, for instance, so I’m happy to see SML on the scene and competing. But at a micro level depending on how much value a teacher perceives in what they’ve created and how they think about things like disseminating their idea and getting it out there versus profiting from it there are clearly advantages and disadvantages to the different approaches from their individual standpoint. That’s the key takeaway.

As a practical matter most of this stuff does not have enormous commercial potential. The $700K kindergarten teacher is interesting but rare, although perhaps somewhat less so as platforms like Teachers Pay Teachers move from peer-to-peer to selling into school districts and schools with licenses. And, of course, some people would like to see their ideas spread more than they care about making money from them. As in all businesses people will approach with different motivations – eg make money, make an impact, try to do both.

But some content is valuable from a financial standpoint – in a few cases very valuable. That’s why the bottom line here is not that any one of these approaches is inherently better than another or more proven at this point, but, again, rather that teachers should understand what they are and are not giving away when they participate in different platforms because there are tradeoffs and in a few cases probably big ones depending on the choices individual teachers make for themselves.  If you think you’re sitting on a goldmine you probably don’t want to give away the rights to it without being compensated even if the site you’re giving it to carries your union’s brand on it.

9 Replies to “The British Are Coming! More On Peer-To-Peer Teacher Sites”

  1. A very balanced look at it. Thanks.

    There are two schools of thought when it comes to teacher-generated content. One is that teachers should share everything they make for free. The other is that teachers work very hard and are actually creating resources that have material value and should be able to profit from their own intellectual property, and that this incentivises them to create ever higher quality materials (which makes them better teachers, keeps them in the profession longer, and helps the whole field because it gets flooded with ever higher quality resources and teachers).

    In both cases, value is being created. In the former (like sharemylessons and betterlesson), teachers get some value, yes, but the website operator gets the monetary value. It doesn’t come from selling the content itself (which is what I think Weingarten is stuck on), it comes from the traffic, the email addresses the site captures, the data, the ads they will show, the magazines they will create and sell, the fees they will charge the union or the charter school networks in betterlesson’s case, etc. TLS makes millions on the TES site, and the teachers make nothing, for example. Yet without the teachers’ content, the site is worthless. Therefore, TLS makes money off of teachers. It’s not wrong, but it is what it is.

    On TeachersPayTeachers, the teachers earn most of the money, usually 85%

    As you say, teachers should just be aware of the difference.

    Paul Edelman
    Founder, TpT

  2. Paul (& Andy),

    Agreed that teachers need to be made aware of the difference and AFT should disclose if there is any revenue sharing arrangement with TLS here (as I strongly suspect there is).

    I would frame your characterization of two schools of thought re: teacher-created content a little differently. I tend to think the problem we are trying to address is how to ensure educators and students have easy access to rich instructional resources that are high-quality and aligned to standards. Historically, we’ve looked to commercial publishers to solve 100% of this problem for us, primarily via print-based approaches. Lots of issues with this approach.

    More recently, the internet has enabled teachers themselves to have greater agency in the selection and generation of that content themselves. That’s a sea change and a really big deal. However, I don’t think that anyone believes that 3 million+ U.S. teachers individually all should be creating their own content and lessons day in and day out. Plus, accountability is tied to state standards for what students should know and be able to do; standards-alignment matters – a lot – and this means that folks other than teachers also need to be apart of any solution.

    One big debate about how to develop and make widely available the best quality content and lessons is about the difference between private markets and crowd-sourced approaches. Money can be used to incent quality in both approaches, but crowd-sourced approaches require intellectual property licenses that allow for sharing and re-use.

    It is true that some believe that all education content should be open-licensed and free for all learners and educators to use worldwide. This speaks to our collective priorities for education and human development. Others are ok with profit-making and proprietary approaches co-existing with open approaches. Over time, much like in other content businesses in the internet age, the price for educational resources only goes one direction from here – and ultimately, the proof of what works best is in student outcomes.

    With respect to U.S. teachers, it is very much an open question to me whether if teachers – as public employees, doing work that is a part of their job – should be able to be compensated individually for that effort or whether their products really remain the property of their schools and districts and should be made available via an open (or public domain) license for others to use. After all, public tax dollars have already paid for the employees time and effort. Why should tax dollars pay for the same thing more than one time?

    There is not one right answer here and there is some nuance I am glossing over. We win by making better content, more widely available and engaging teachers and students directly in its creation, vetting, and continuous improvement. However, folks involved with these efforts are beholden to be crystal clear on their aims, how they are being paid (if at all), and the ownership (and re-use rights) of any content that is developed and/or shared on their sites.

    I also think that perhaps the most exciting efforts are those that are focused on helping the myriad – hundreds+ – of sites that already are playing some role in this emerging eco-system to work together from the user perspective. Users don’t want to have to remember and log-in to a dozen different sites, and I think it unrealistic that any one site or service will be all things to all people. When people search for educational resources on the internet, we want to find good resources quickly and easily.

    The (partial) solutions to these issues start to get technical right quick, and involve discussions about interoperability and metadata and ongoing efforts like the Learning Registry, the Learning Metadata Resource Initiative, the Shared Learning Collaborative, open licensed standards alignment tools, etc.

    I think the concept behind SML and TPT and the many others is the right direction and where we are headed. Kudos to all involved with it. However, I do think that states and districts need to be clear-eyed about the broader shifts underway and to stay true to their core missions.

  3. Wow, I’m amazed by your statement-and look forward to reading other opinion on the matter-
    “With respect to U.S. teachers, it is very much an open question to me whether if teachers – as public employees, doing work that is a part of their job – should be able to be compensated individually for that effort or whether their products really remain the property of their schools and districts and should be made available via an open (or public domain) license for others to use. After all, public tax dollars have already paid for the employees time and effort. Why should tax dollars pay for the same thing more than one time?”

    Individuals work for organizations, whether it’s in the public or private sector. Some organizations have statements/agreements on intellectual property rights, while others do not. It’s up to the individual whether or not they choose to sign such an agreement in order to secure the position, but I haven’t seen a teaching contract with such a requirement and I would definitely be reluctant to sign one – but I might (who knows) I love my school!

  4. On another note, when teachers (or others) go to the site and look at resources and even download some, a data trail of their activity will be created. Who will own that data? How will it be used?

    I agree with Doug this is a good direction for the field in a general sense, but there are important questions that emerge that may not have before.

  5. Great discussion. I’d just like to plug the National Science Digital Library and its partners Much as I like the idea of TPT, NSDL content is vetted and its partner sites provide some degree of quality.

    I am part of a digital collaborative established by my district and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research funded by the NSF. In a unique partnership agreement with one of our curriculum publishers, the publisher content is placed online and teachers upload their own materials to share or keep private in the cloud. The main goal is to provide teachers with the ability to customize the curriculum for their own students/building/district and participate in a professional community. It’s working well and we are expanding to other districts in three states and will add more content areas. One hindrance to even faster adoption seems to be just the sort of Wild West the Internet has become for all things–there is so much distraction and noise that quality platforms or sites get overlooked. Read about our work in more detail in the October 2011 issue of “The Science Teacher,” from the National Science Teachers Association, just look for my name.

  6. This is a very interesting debate- the key here is that teachers are often left to sink or swim, with little support and that is what the AFT is trying to help solve. We are sharing knowledge, and share my lesson as well as the individual teachers will have ownership rights- like school districts now do with much of the content teachers now create. If teachers don’t want to share -they don’t have to- but this is a huge opportunity for teachers to work with each other to improve our craft. Randi

  7. Sorry to interject again, but wanted to share perspective of veteran US teacher…

    Over the last 20+ years, I’ve spent alot of my own money – no expense account – on booklets and things created for with classroo activities. Many times because I just intended to use 1 or 2 enclosed items. The best of these materials are created by teachers (imho) When I recently ran across TpT (yeah, guess I’m slow ;D) it was really refreshing because I don’t have to purchase an entire booklet anymore. I can search free/inexpensive content specific items, preview them and download them right away.

    I also like the fact that the site is open to various content and won’t be sifted through the CommonCore filter – although there are a few of the 9-12 CCS-M standards that I find interesting – I don’t want to be restricted to CC standards because I personally believe their may be necessary but are at this point insufficient.

    Thanks for humoring me!

    As a teacher, everything I do is about collaboration…with colleagues, students, parents, administrators, etc…

  8. Randi,

    For the record, great concept. Major props for moving this direction; I think it very smart and a sign of the change in times. I wholeheartedly understand and embrace the goal you are trying to solve.

    Two issues:

    (1) How does this relate – from a teacher perspective – with existing online resources teachers use (perhaps provided by their schools, districts and/or states), and how do you expect that to change over time? Is this a competitor or an umbrella? The initial framing of your release sounds like there aren’t any existing online resources or communities for teachers of value already in existence and that simply isn’t true. Whether intentional or not, launching your own venture says something about what others are already doing. How does it fit?

    (2) The legal and technical (technology) framework that Share My Lesson seems to be employing could be better aligned (or may even be working at cross odds) with your goals and the needs of US teachers, especially over time. Plus, you haven’t done a good job of disclosing the terms to teachers voluntarily participating in the effort. The site’s terms and privacy policy don’t clearly support the aims I understand you espousing.

    It’s hard to dialogue about this over twitter or via Andy’s blog; I’ve been in touch with some folks in your Ed Issues group in DC and look forward to sharing my thoughts in detail and/or connecting you to others who know even more. Good news is that this may all be addressable, should you be persuaded by anything I’m suggesting.

    Again, right direction and right goals. Concerns re: initial execution and messaging. Hoping that you’ll be persuaded to take into account the lessons we’ve learned about technology implementation in education.

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