Law in the Internet Society

Lesson Plans as Commodities: So what if teachers want to sell their work?

-- By HeatherStevenson - 20 Dec 2009

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 is 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.

How Lesson Plans Are Sold

Good teachers have always used lesson plans in order to help their students achieve the maximum possible amount of learning in a small amount of time. Though variations in pedagogy (and skill, personal preference, experience, time, etc.) lead to very different plans, almost all teachers are required by their employers to write something down in preparation for the classes that they teach. New websites like Teachers Pay Teachersfacilitate the process of purchasing and selling lesson plans by teachers. As on Craigslist, users may post a lesson plan and ask for a particular price from purchasers; unlike on Craiglist, the same lesson plan may be purchased and downloaded many times, allowing the poster to earn money from the sale of the lesson plan to multiple people. The concept of paying for educational materials online is not new. Websites like have long offered worksheets, created by employees of edhelper, and accessible to teachers through an annual subscription fee. However, now that teachers have started selling lesson plans that they created for use in their public school classrooms, a debatehas arisen as to who owns the plans.

What Selling Lesson Plans Means from a Practical Point of View

If teachers can simply purchase lesson plans, it means that they will likely spend less time creating the basic framework of each day's lesson, and they will spend less time creating worksheets used to reinforce students skills and knowledge. This may be a good thing: some teachers will use the extra time to refine the purchased lesson plans, creating plans for differentiated instruction based on the different needs and strengths of individual students in their classes. On the other hand, some teachers may be inclined to unthinkingly use the strategies planned out by another teacher for a different group of students. Notably, the possibility of purchasing lesson plans (or even of using lesson plans purchased by a school district with a set of textbooks) is not new. School districts often purchase textbooks and accompanying curricula. Furthermore, stand alone workbooks have long been used to reinforce memorization of material, such as multiplication tables, vocabulary words, or important dates in history. However, in the past, the materials purchased were typically created specifically for sale, rather than for use in the creators' classrooms.

The Dangers of Turning Lesson Plans Into Commodities

Currently, lesson planning, providing in-classroom instruction, and grading papers (among other activities) are all part of a teacher's job. It is generally at the teacher's discretion, at least in Public Schools, to decide how much time he will spend getting his work down beyond those hours that he is required to be in the classroom teaching. For many teachers, the day stretches far beyond 3PM dismissal, with grading, planning and outreach to parents taking up hours each day. If lesson planning becomes optional, and also a potential means of earning additional income, the jobs included within the title of "teacher" will change.

The Existence of a Capitalist System Suggests Commodifying Lesson Plans Will Change Teachers' Behavior

As discussed in class, America functions on a Capitalist system in which many decisions are made based on potential financial gain. This suggests that if teachers can buy and sell lesson plans in the new internet market, the value of time spent lesson planning will go up and the opportunity cost of other tasks like grading papers will rise. While teaching currently functions as a profession with many discrete tasks within the overall job, as teachers begin to earn money from their lesson plans they may focus more on the potential for additional financial gain than on the best interests of their students.

A Better Option

Free lesson plans, created by teachers and for teachers, are available as well. Teachers should choose to use these free sites rather than the pay sites, both by submitting their own plans and using those of others. Because there are multiple free websites, there is likely a larger selection of lessons available for free than on any one pay site. Clearly, the more teachers that contribute to free rather than pay sites, the greater the difference in selection will be. Furthermore, there is no reason to assume that websites that charge automatically do or must provide better quality lesson plans; the difference may simply be one of differences in beliefs or preferences of contributors. The internet should be used to create the possibility of collaboration and sharing in order to improve the quality of education both in the U.S. and abroad; this improvement could better occur if teachers chose to share rather than profit financially.

I don't understand why the free culture option, which is the center of the analysis, is postponed to a paragraph at the end, which seems to take off in a separate direction. The controversy over who should benefit, the teachers or the taxpayers, is resolved in the free culture arrangement: both teachers, collectively, and school districts, collectively, benefit. If the lesson plans and other teaching materials produced and shared are shared on Creative Commons' BY-SA-NC terms, every teacher will get attribution and recognition, every modification and improvement to lesson plans will have to be put back in the commons, which means they will constantly adapt and improve, and no one will be able to make commercial distribution use of them, which means the companies that want to sell lesson plans will have to make their own. This is the optimal solution to the problem you explain, but you don't explain why.


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r10 - 25 Jan 2010 - 23:21:40 - EbenMoglen
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