I’ve been aware of educational resource sites for a while now – they’ve gradually been growing in appeal, I guess, as more and more people start to have access to the internet and it becomes easier to manage transactions across the web. You could call it the ‘Amazonisation’ of teaching, I guess. For the most part, the large and well known sites were the ones set up by educational publishers – and while I’ve never really seen these used effectively across a whole school (but I have seen individual teachers make use of them very effectively) – I can see the benefit and I’ve generally found them to be of reasonably high quality. For the most part, the sites are an add-on
Of course, there have been plenty of other sites – usually much smaller sites – where teachers freely shared their resources with each other. I’ve contributed to that myself, too – adding my own resources and slide shows in the hope that someone else might find them useful. In fact, I’ve often said that I think the best teachers are magpies – they ‘steal’ or borrow things from each other because they know that it will improve the learning of their students. In my experience, most teachers are only too willing to share their ideas and resources.
But then I read this article. It describes ‘Teachers Pay Teachers’, a US-based site with a worldwide audience where teachers can set up their own ‘stores’ – from which they sell resources. According to the article, teachers can make sizeable sums of money from this – although there isn’t much in the way of statistics o the page. Again, according to the article, the resources are generally worksheet based, mostly for elementary teachers. So far, so good, right? After all, it’s really no different to companies like Pearsons or Jacaranda, is it? It’s actually a victory for the little guy – he or she can now compete with much bigger publishers, right?
Well, I guess, but I’m not sure how I actually feel about that. My issue isn’t so much with the selling (and in the interests of full disclosure I used to work for a school that sold its curriculum to other schools) but with the buying. From what I understand, it’s individual teachers who are purchasing these materials to make their lessons a little more exciting, a little more effective, a little more engaging. And again, I acknowledge we’ve all done things like that, too. But here’s a question: surely, if you are going to use the resources in the school, the school should be purchasing them, and not expecting a teacher to do so, from his or her own pocket? As far as I understand it, US teachers get paid poorly enough as it is.
And then there’s the copyright issue. Let me give you an example. I used to use AFOREST as a mnemonic to help students remember the key features of persuasive writing. I borrowed it from a workshop I went to, and made up some resources to help explain it. Now, if I sold those resources, would I be breaching copyright? After all, I didn’t invent AFOREST, so it’s possible – indeed, even likely, that I would be infringing on someone’s intellectual property. Even more seriously, what happens if I created those resources to use at one school, and then sold them? Am I being dishonest there, and selling the school’s intellectual property without permission?