Despite the inference in the title of this post, I don’t imagine the movement towards Open Educational Resources battling it out on the stage with profit-driven spaces like Teachers Pay Teachers. I am not sure it even has to be one (profit-based) versus the other (free-based). I just want to put both models side by side, to see what I can see.
And given Stephen Downes’ exploration within E-Learning 3.0 around OER resources, and the Distributed Web networks that might emerge for greater sharing of open resources as well as my friend Laura’s post with the question of “who pays” for hosting open content, I find it intriguing to think about these two movements in the field of teachers: One, where open sharing of resources is the underpinning of possible education change and the other, where teachers pay other teachers for their lesson plans and resources to make up gaps where school systems have fallen woefully short.
Both have some validity, although I lean more strongly toward OER, for sure. Personally, I try my best to share out project ideas and lesson plans and other resources as freely as I can (see: Video Game Design for the classroom), in the optimistic hope that somewhere, a student might be engaged in something that will light that light (you know the one) or spark a discovery that unveils something new. Ever hopeful, ever the optimist — that’s me.
It’s why I engage in connected communities and why I learn from others while hoping others might learn a bit from what I am doing. I can’t think of a time when I paused and thought, Maybe this should be behind a paywall so I can get a little honey money from the idea.
The success of a site like Teachers Pay Teachers, however, shows another model. That, of turning teaching ideas into cash. What is TPT? The site’s About Us explains and makes perfectly clear: this is a business:
Teachers Pay Teachers is an online marketplace where teachers buy and sell original educational materials.
Now, look, I have paid to download resources from TpT and I found it mostly to be a seamless experience. I found and bought some good resources that helped me in the classroom. Sure, I wish I didn’t have to pay for what I needed, but I also understand the notion that teachers work hard and deserve to make a living (maybe if teachers were paid more fairly, and respected more in society, this would not even be a discussion). When I hit the virtual check-out line at TpT, I figure I am helping support a colleague somewhere and getting a quality resource.
And there are sometimes free resources at TpT. Sort of like nibbling on samples in Costco. They hope you will open your wallet for more.
I dug a little deeper as I was writing this post and boy, I quickly realized just what a huge business model this TPT really is and how it is growing profit maker — prob not so much for the teachers, but for the company overseeing it. The folks at TPT apparently host a periodic conference that appears to teach teachers how to sell themselves and their work (read this teacher’s post-conference reflections) There are a ton of videos on how to launch into the sales site. They have job openings for teachers as marketers, and more.
I was thinking of TpT in reference to an interview I once had with Howard Rheingold, for the Connected Learning Alliance, and he asked me about TpT because he had featured another teacher using TpT. It struck me as odd, then. Howard was exploring ways teachers use social media and resources to connect with other teachers. I could not equate what she was doing — selling to other teachers — with connected learning principles of openness.
Elsewhere, recently, I found another teacher wrote of TpT:
Selling my teaching materials on this popular website has made me a better teacher and has changed my life! — via blog
Um. Yuck. Sorry, but my hackles got up just perusing it all, the way the business model is seeping into the education model, built on the noble concept of teachers helping other teachers. A conference to help teachers sell themselves and their lesson plans? Yeah, that goes against my philosophical and moral outlook of education as a special kind of societal job, with the greater good baked in there.
Maybe that’s just me.
I am not naive — I know there is an argument to be made for teachers leveraging experience to make a living for their families. And the teacher quoted above might be suggesting that getting plans and resources ready for sale might have forced her to think more deeply about her teaching practice.
Legal Aside: if you develop lessons in the school you teach, who owns the intellectual property? The school or you? Can you sell it? Do you need permission? I don’t even know. Some lawyer somewhere has already figured it out, I am sure.
Meanwhile, the Open Educational Resource movement (OER Commons is one of many sites) that we are exploring in EL30 is like another planet altogether. Which is not to say that the Open Educational Resource movement is not about quality, too. It is. It’s also about learning together, of sharing together, of collaboration, of considering the greater good.
The question of how to access (if you are looking) and how to distribute (if you are sharing) is a topic of great interest in many circles, particularly at the University level where the costs of textbooks are opening doors to alternatives for professors and students alike. Difficulties around how to license materials, and how to ensure adequate citation of used work, or the act of remixing the content of others … these are all questions to be considered and barriers yet to be overcome.
But in the battle between open and closed, free or profit … I am all about the open sharing of experiences to make the world a better place. We all will need to be helping each other over that “river” (another reference to Laura’s post)– from here to there.
Peace (beyond the marketplace),