Years ago at a conference, I remember one of the presenters stating something to the effect that: “Good teachers are good gleaners.” What she meant, basically, is that true educators are able to analyze material and synthesize multiple pieces of information together into new formats for delivery to their students in ways that support learning. This may also be characteristic of the larger academic dialog that goes on within education generally and each field specifically.
Coupled with other issues, such as the near poverty level pay for adjunct faculty, the war on education, the excessive workload placed upon educators, eLearning, and just the sheer joy of collaboration, it’s not surprising that sites for faculty to share, buy, and sell resources are continue popping up online.
Although I frequently encourage faculty to share resources if they are willing because there are some tremendous advantages to doing so, I also have some concerns with publicly marketing materials.
Here are my baker’s dozen of the advantages and disadvantages to sharing, especially buying and selling, educational materials online.
• Saving time and energy: One of the main reasons I often encourage faculty to share resources is to save time and energy. I have seen dozens of faculty create relatively the same resource when that time and energy could have been saved. Why reinvent the wheel? A quick review of an excellent site for sharing materials like ShareMyLesson will show viewers in a matter of minutes how much material is already available for faculty use. Sites such as this one offer resources that are already well organized into a virtual file cabinet with digital drawers such as grade levels, common core standards, and my favorite, “special populations.” ShareMyLesson also features a fantastic search function. It doesn’t get easier than this.
• Collaboration and collegiality: Another key benefit is the opportunity to engage in conversation with other faculty, and potentially to even work together to develop materials. Sites like ShareMyLesson often have a “Community” link where interested faculty may participate in conversations or material development with colleagues.
• Global conversations: Furthermore, participants in these online communities are not limited to their own campuses. Rather, faculty can communicate and collaborate with educators from around the world. Imagine being a foreign language teacher in the U.S. and meeting an English instructor in a country which speaks your target language. Think of the materials and activities the two of you could come up with for the benefit of your students.
• Mentoring new faculty: Many of us can probably think back to feeling quickly overwhelmed by our first teaching job, especially when we received textbooks, common core standards, faculty expectations, and other items we were expected to utilize or accomplish. For instance, my first semester of teaching at the postsecondary level involved covering world literature from ancient times to the proto-Renaissance period in only 16 weeks of meeting face-to-face, three hours per week. I would have loved to have had a resource like ShareMyLesson, in which I could ask my questions without fear that my colleagues would wonder about my ability to teach the course and within which I could find resources that had worked well for seasoned professionals. These sites provide excellent opportunities to mentor new faculty and the creation of materials.
• Guiding various formats and modalities: Even for those experienced faculty, questions and the need for collaboration will remain. Consider, for example, how quickly technology progresses. Many of us want to use multimedia to help our students learn; however, we may not possess the knowledge to set up an interactive digital activity or to convert a text file to an audio or visual file. Again, having the opportunity to ask questions and to see examples of what others have done is a real advantage of resource sharing sites.
• Making money: Let’s face it. Faculty do not get paid anywhere near what they are worth as professionals. Recently, I wrote about how adjunct faculty are paid slightly above the U.S. poverty level. Others are profiting off the backs of these hard working professionals. Why shouldn’t teachers themselves earn additional money from their talents and skills? Sites like TeachersPayTeachers® allow educators to do exactly that. The site defines itself as: “an online marketplace where teachers buy and sell original downloadable educational materials, hard goods and used educational resources.”> On sites like this, teachers can create, list, and market their educational materials to earn extra money.
• Promoting professional development and status: A perk of sites that allow faculty to share or sell their original materials is that they help teacers pursue professional development opportunities as they collaborate and create. The more they do this, the more they may also become known as an excellent educator. This could lead to further opportunities to advance in their field.
Overall, there are a lot of advantages to these online versions of teacher “gleaning.” However, there are some concerns that should be kept in mind.
Each time I look at one of these sharing sites for faculty, I have some questions.
• Who has access? The sites are typically public and may only require free registration or small fees to obtain a faculty member’s materials. The rational assumption is that visitors would only do so for pedagogical reasons. Yet, I think most of us know there may be some less noble reasons someone may visit the site. For instance, would a student go to a sharing site to get advance copies of materials that he/she could sell to other students? Could parents, administrators, or lawyers who are looking to dig up some dirt on a faculty member use the site? Is it possible a publisher may glean faculty materials for publication and profit? More safeguards against potential abuse of these sites seem warranted. Academic publishers usually verify educator identities and affiliations before sending out desk copies. Could these sites do something similar to lessen the chances of abuse? It may be advisable that faculty copyright their original materials, too.
• Is the pay acceptable? Rights? Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I’m wondering if the one-time fee is acceptable, given the potential universal rights that are purchased with it. I also know how much time and energy it takes to create materials, so the average price seems low to me. Let’s say it takes a teacher only an hour to create a lesson they’re willing to sell. Most sell for less than $10. Is this a fair hourly rate of pay for professionals? Would doctors or lawyers work for $10/hour? Then there is the global aspect. These materials are available to anyone with Internet access around the world and perhaps are translated into other languages. What remuneration for foreign rights and translation into other languages do faculty receive? Granted, I understand teachers are trying to help other teachers, but when I see this and other online services like curriculum development and tutoring that pay about $10/hour, too, I have to wonder why we value ourselves so little that we work for near poverty wages.
• Are the materials being bought and sold still accurate? For example, as a composition instructor, I have seen frequent examples of online resources for using MLA or APA style that are outdated and no longer correct. I have also seen classes where faculty upload these materials for student use, and as a chair and writing center director, I have had to resolve student escalations resulting from faculty provided, outdated materials.
• Were these materials written for your students and your context? The resources written at the postsecondary level may not be appropriate for middle or high school students. Yet again, I have seen faculty download a resource and upload it to a class, only to express frustration that students didn’t utilize it. Who knows your students and context better than you?
• How do these sites feed the perception that faculty are lazy? As much as I loathe this negative stereotype, it does exist, and I can hear education detractors saying: “I could download those $10 materials myself without paying thousands in tuition dollars to have someone else do it for me.”
• Finally, how does the buying and selling of educational resources like this fit into the current era where the so-called ‘for-profit’ sector of education is under scrutiny? Is there potential for this to be perceived as yet another education scam?
Overall, the support and collegiately of online, global collaboration along with the other possible benefits seem to outweigh the potential disadvantages to online sharing sites. However, I would suggest faculty proceed cautiously. Do all you can to make sure that any gleaning of your materials is not done with any other purpose than the intended educational context. Sites that encourage sharing of resources, especially the buy/sell ones, should also do all they can to make sure educators are protected and appropriately remunerated as skilled professionals.
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