Setting up an online school – Part 19

Here I continue on the topic of creating your own original material for your classes and I explore ways to use existing sources to shortcut the process.

Creating your own material part 2

The wealth of material

For sure the one thing we can say about the web is that you have access to an awful lot of stuff for free. A quick search free elt materials gave me more than 8 million results. Of course the quality will be mixed and you will want to adapt rather than use a lot of it verbatim. Once again you may run into copyright issues as if you alter material as you then can’t credit it nor can you truly claim it as your own. If you alter it sufficiently that it is unrecognizable from the core material that should be fine but anything less and it may be a problem.

People are using material from all over the web willy-nilly and it is difficult to see them being chased for it but your problem could be if you are successful, with lots of teachers and students. Then you might be worth suing. It is something to consider.

Credit your sources

Established sources like TED lessons and the BBC for example say that the materials can be used but again I am not sure that they would be happy about a successful school getting their expensive to make stuff for free. Definitely make sure you credit any source and don’t alter it unless you are sure it is ok to do so.

Putting together your own sound and video

To make your lessons interesting with the wonders of a web platform like the superb Vedamo one you need videos and sound files. Could you create your own? Yes, nowadays you could, with mobile phone technology so amazing you could script short videos and sound files and create lessons around them. As long as the quality is sufficient this is a possibility.

However you would need a large bank of these and someone with a creative turn of mind for this to be a reality. You could give it a go and slowly build up a database of your own. Over say a couple of years you might have quite a few ready for lessons. It will be time consuming, however, and you will need to get the quality as high as possible to ensure you don’t look unprofessional.

Easier ways

But what is this series for if not to make your life easier? I have come up with some ideas to get original videos and sound files for free and they will be high quality. Universities with visual media courses, radio, journalism, drama, etc. will all have a multitude of student projects sitting there, most of which will never get a wider audience. If you approach them there is a good chance they will say yes, you can use them in your classroom. They will, of course, want you to credit them. They will be using top quality recording technology and studios and also, they will have a text version so you don’t need to transcribe recordings which can be a pain.

I know as I transcribed from videos from Premier league websites which I mentioned in the previous blog. It is time consuming and sometimes you can’t make out the exact word that is being said forcing you to press replay many times. Of course, if the words are not clear then maybe it is not a good idea to use them in English lessons.

You could also try local radio stations. They will have lots of sound files and again they will most likely have the text with them saving you transcribing time. The advantage of radio stations is that pronunciation should be good and the files can be used easily. They often have items like book or film reviews which can be interesting for students and topical, prompting lively discussions.

Making your own from scratch

This type of material is potentially useful for higher English levels but for the lower levels, very short pieces are needed with easy words and slower pronunciation. These are the ones you should concentrate on at the start for making yourself. Short and simple and easy to put together. For ideas you could look at the textbooks and adapt them.

I cannot emphasise enough that putting together your own material will give you a competitive edge. Making it interesting and unique will attract students and retain them. If you are creative or someone working with you is, then set the imagination to work. Devise a script and get friends with good voices to act it. The great thing about mobile devices is you can get two people to record their section in their own room and then splice them together. I have had great success with this. Cheap and easy and superb for the lower level students as you can tell your friends to speak slowly and clearly but as naturally as possible.

Creating your own material is a rewarding way to gain an advantage. Slow and time consuming for sure but do not dismiss the possibility. Building up a bank of items to use over and over again which you can save using the template feature in Vedamo means your classes can be smooth, unique, fun and most of all, different to what else is out there.

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Gus Worth is a highly experienced writer and educator having worked in universities for nearly 20 years and being first published at the age of six. Currently in the English department of the American University in Bulgaria, he also writes extensively for the web and in print for many companies. He has a particular love of online teaching and enjoys helping teachers take their first steps in the exciting world of the future where you can connect with, and help students develop, all over the planet.
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