Law in the Internet Society

Practice What You Preach - The Case for Sharing Lesson Plans

-- By HeatherStevenson - 20 Dec 2009

Revised Version

Selling Lesson Plans

A lesson plan is like a teacher's road-map, guiding him through a class period and elaborating the strategies that he will use in order to help his students learn a particular aspect of a curriculum. In the past, lesson plans were often hand-written notes, stored in binders, xeroxed, and shared among teachers within a school. However, the methods of creation and sharing of lesson plans are changing. In class, Professor Moglen discussed the tendency of the internet to transform goods previously outside of the capitalist economy into commodities. As with many items that formerly carried little economic value, with the rise of the internet and the discovery that people will pay to purchase lesson plans, the "commoditization" of the personal lesson plan has rapidly accelerated. However, while the ease with which the internet allows for sharing of lesson plans will almost necessarily change the frequency and form in which plans are shared, the involvement of money is not a given. It seems possible that lesson plans could be shared under the Creative Commons' framework, as some software has been, in order to increase sharing and the quality of lesson plans.

Creative Commons licenses are not used for sharing software. Creative Commons recommends the GPL as the license for software. The better comparison here would be with all the existing educational materials released under Creative Commons licenses, such as the entire MIT curriculum available as MIT OpenCourseware. A little more research would have helped. You might even have pointed to the Creative Commons-licensed lesson plans from the Media Lab at Temple University for teaching about copyright, for example.

Why Sharing Lesson Plans Makes Sense

Good teachers write lesson plans and rework those plans each year based on the needs of individual students in a particular class. If some teachers were to share lesson plans for free, additional teachers could continue modifying the lesson plans to meet the needs of particular groups of students and then share the modified versions of the lesson plans. Over time, many different versions of an original lesson plan would be available such that less and less modification would be necessary for each teacher. For example, the original poster of a lesson plan might write a lesson plan on dividing fractions. An ESL teacher might use that lesson plan, but modify it to meet the needs of English Language Learners, and then share the version targeted at ELLs. A third teacher could take that ESL version and modify it further, focusing on the particular needs of very new English Language Learners who share a primary language. Over time, many versions of the same lesson would appear, each suited to a particular group of students. Similarly, teachers might try the lesson and find ways to improve it generally - those improvements could also be shared. By mimicking processes already used for open source software, teachers could create less work for themselves AND write stronger lesson plans. The continued process of revision and new modifications would create incentives for teachers to post both original lesson plans and modifications, because anything posted might later be re-posted in a modified (and useful) form.

Why Sharing Lesson Plans is Better Than Selling Lesson Plans

Some websites are already set up that allow teachers to share lesson plans with each other. Sharing lesson plans makes more sense than selling them. If a teacher creates a lesson plan and then sells it, he will profit financially from its sale and the purchasers may profit (in time, knowledge, lesson quality, etc.) as well. However, any modification or improvement made to the lesson plan by the purchaser does not benefit anyone but him and his students. Presumably, purchasers are not authorized to resell their modified versions of a lesson plan, particularly if they've made only small changes. Thus, in a sale-based lesson plan market, the additional work of purchasers benefits only them. In contrast, when teachers share, the modified lesson plans may be posted and the efforts of those teachers who modify lesson plans may benefit lots of other teachers. Thus, by sharing (as they so often tell their students to do) teachers will in fact receive greater benefits overall than if they were to sell their lesson plans.

So, as I said in commenting on the initial draft, that's the easy part. As it turned out, you have little trouble explaining why curriculum sharing makes rational sense. (This is not even a topic of discussion in most of the world's educational systems, of course, because uniform national school curriculum is produced by public entities. One has to have already the utterly atypical localism of American public education to be confused about it.) But you haven't used the remaining third of your available space to deal with the less easy part, which is the immense resistance to the obviously rational, involving the textbook publishers, the legislatures, the unions and all the others who have stakes in the existing system's many pathologies. As funding for American public education nosedives in the next five years, and school systems face overwhelming financial pressures, there will be opportunities for change that are unavailable in less desperate times. Some thinking on your part about how to make change happen on the ground as horrendous budget cuts take hold would be very useful indeed.


Webs Webs

r17 - 07 Sep 2011 - 00:43:59 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM