Micro-publishing in K-12
Our school is 2 years into our 1:1 program, using iPads and Macbooks across every grade level. Our school also has a great collection of teachers with impressive T-Shaped skills and deep classroom skills. Our school is not bound to a particular line of textbooks, or a mandatory state curriculum. So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about the open frontier of niche K-12 academic publishing recently.
I can imagine the benefit of leaving behind “good enough” textbooks in favor of faculty-created EPUBs, filled with dynamic media and “just right for us” content. But I also know that there’s numerous subtle and somewhat hidden problems, most of which stem from issues surrounding compensation and ownership.
First off, creating a good resource is a ton of work! From experience, I can tell you that just a curated reader (with proper licences from publishers) can take weeks of layout and design work, and that’s a fraction of what’s involved with an original full-course text. iBooks Author simplifies the layout process and provides a turn-key distribution system, but teachers still need incredible dedication and craft to write the thing.*
If custom texts really represent a serious change in classroom, then schools will need to demonstrate that importance to teachers with compensation. While small stipends are administratively easier, finding ways for a teacher to take a day for writing and reflection after each major unit might be more effective and equally appreciated. Asking teachers to find the time to write an original text in the margins of their classroom hours will produce works full of subpar original material and casual plagiarism.
Direct compensation and academic support are critical, both to get the project off the ground and to clearly state that the school values what the teacher produces. But it’s easy for both individuals and institutions to misread the potential value of this material, once it’s removed from the classroom and the teaching experience.
Whether or not this is true, it encourages a hoarding mindset among teachers, which runs contrary to every principle of collaborative faculty engagement EVER. Really, it’s bad news. Even imaginary money on the table can generate ill-will. We’ve all seen Behind the Music.
Who owns what? Who gets credit? Can the school repackage and sell all material used in their classrooms? Will they try to stop a teacher who moves to another school from reusing their own curriculum? Without clear answers to these questions, answers that encourage teachers to create new exemplary content, schools quickly arrive in a nasty stalemate, where teachers are afraid to teach from their own passions and creativity, less they lose the benefit from, or control of, their work.
These answers need to extend beyond individual assurances from administrators, or anything that rests on the culture or reputation of the school. Individuals leave and institutions change, and both can happen extremely quickly in independent schools. Instead of trying to cover what the school won’t do with a teacher’s work, these agreements also need to specify what the individual can do with their own material, even when the teacher’s wishes and the school’s diverge.
Before teachers invest their time and the school’s resources in building new curricular materials, both parties need to have a clear understanding of what rights both parties will have over the final product.
(F.1 – There’s clear parallels here to the idea that all schools need to make their own App. They just need a programmer. )