Teacher’s Helper

Online lesson-sharing sees global growth

Wanda Longoria and Eric Bettinger speak at SXSW edu
Wanda Longoria and Eric Bettinger speak at SXSW edu (by Rod Machen)

The demands on teachers' time are legion, but a burgeoning online movement is here to help.

Digital lesson plan sharing has reached enormous levels and is growing by the day, an SXSWedu panel audience learned this week. According to Louise Rogers, CEO of TSL, a U.K.-based hosting service, hundreds of thousands of lessons have been downloaded millions of times.

One particular example she gave was that of Bev Evans, a special needs teacher in Wales. She started off with just one child in her care, as well as a special-needs son at home. Through developing a curriculum for herself, she created a set of lessons that have been downloaded over five million times to date.

Eric Bettinger studies such networks from his perch at Stanford University and has come to some surprising conclusions. Unlike most online communities with an ostensibly practical purpose, lesson-sharing sites are not fizzling out after an initial burst of activity. Rather, new users are even more engaged than those that came before.

He also noted that time management is a key component in this activity. By going online to find engaging lessons instead of spending their own time developing them from scratch, teachers gain valuable hours back from their busy schedules. While some of that time might be spent with family and personal activities, Bettinger notes that teachers are actually using it to do more work with students, enhancing the educational experience for all.

Rogers said her site TES Connect started off innocuously enough as a simple online meeting place for teachers to discuss the myriad issues they deal with. Soon, these educators were swapping lessons at a brisk pace, necessitating a dedicated network just for that activity.

Teachers from all over the world participate in lesson sharing, including right here in our own backyard. Panelist Wanda Longoria hails from San Antonio and has been active in the American version of TES Connect, www.sharemylesson.com. By taking bits and pieces from multiple lessons on the site, she can make engaging lessons for the high-risk population she serves who struggle with traditional textbook-based lessons.

And herein lies the big change: No longer are teachers confined to only those materials provided by their school though textbook adoption, and a good thing, too. TSL found that on average, the standard classroom textbook is over five years old. In Texas, adoptions happen once per decade, so this isn't a surprise.

With the massive amount of sharing and collaboration that is going on between teachers today, it won't be long until textbooks go the way of chalkboard and transparency projectors: outdated technology that no longer has a prominent place in the classroom. Teachers and students can't wait.

Rod Machen is an English Teacher at Round Rock ISD's McNeil High School

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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News, SXSWedu, digital lesson plan sharing, Louise Rogers, Bev Evans, Eric Bettinger, TES Connect, Wanda Longoria

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