Last Sunday featured an interesting article in the New York Times by Winnie Hu, “Selling Lessons Online Raises Cash and Questions,” in which she unveiled, at least to me, that the sale of finished lessons by teachers is a booming business. I knew it was possible to purchase lesson plans online, but I had no idea that is was actually a profitable endeavor. Some of the teachers profiled are making a killing.
As the title suggests, there are a lot of issues that this brings up for society as a whole. There are the usual:
“To the extent that school district resources are used, then I think it’s fair to ask whether the district should share in the proceeds,” said Robert N. Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
regarding the intellectual property of teachers in which they use the resources that taxpayers provide them with to turn a personal profit. And there are the professional, brought up by Joseph McDonald, a professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University:
“Teachers swapping ideas with one another, that’s a great thing,” he said. “But somebody asking 75 cents for a word puzzle reduces the power of the learning community and is ultimately destructive to the profession.”
This one hits at home a little for me, which after my initial shock at the dollar amounts that could be made subsided, was the next gut reaction. Does the fact that we are no longer just sharing through our networks cloud the nature of collaboration? Or does the minimal dollar amount automatically take that off the table? Some may not see the harm in paying an iTunes-equivalent fee for a great stock lesson on Beowulf, but the cumulative effect could be much greater.
Where I am with this as I right this in a wholly new direction, however. Could this be the beginning of freelance teaching? a return to the time when a teacher found a good spot in the center of town and hung up a sign that said “Great knowledge here. Be enlightened for small fee?” This sounds odd, yes, but think of how easy it is to set up an online portal that tracks student progress, provides immediate feedback, exposes their work to a global audience, and allows for real-time collaboration and communication. It’s something we all might be able to create with a web server, a good friend who can code and will work for food and beer, and a little marketing savvy. Is this the future of learning as we know it?
We are still in the infancy of online learning and virtual schools, but as we see more teachers and schools embrace it, the shift may be for teachers to gather together and form their own schools this way, because, let’s face it, it’s not rocket science to set up these portals. Also, how many teachers that you know truly believe there is a better way to do things than is being done in the schools they work in? This might just be the way to create the schools they want to create, or at least one in which they have the locus of control.
Seth Godin has been quoted as saying the following:
If you think the fallout from the newspaper industry was dramatic, wait until you see what happens in education.
Could this be what he was talking about?
Late edit to this post: Larry Cuban has an excellent view on the call for technology to change schools that fits nicely with this post here.