Setting up an online school – Part 18

This time I will talk about creating your material and any shortcuts I have found. I will give advice on how to easily put together interesting material and I will explore the legal minefield of the internet.

Creating your own material – Part 1

Starting from scratch

First off, truly creating your own material from scratch is a huge task. I will get to that in a later blog but first I will explore what you can do short of that. Because making videos, listenings, creating questions and answers, devising quizzes, etc., is going to take a long time and you need to get started and make money.

I do need to talk about the legal minefield that is the internet. Basically there is a lot of material out there that is available for educational use. And in a physical classroom that is fine. But online you are reproducing it and that may not be so straightforward. I believe you should contact any providers where you are planning to use their material and get their permission. I have done this many times and most of the time had no problem.

Using other material

So what can you use short of creating your own stuff? Standard textbooks from the educational publishers are a possibility. You could get the students to buy the book in their own country or online and that should be fine. However, in my experience, publishers are not happy about this. They don’t want to give you permission to reproduce their stuff online. The top, but incredibly expensive platforms have partnerships with publishers allowing you to incorporate their materials but this option is very expensive and probably beyond the reach of a start-up.

Now, you could ignore this. They would have to get inside your classroom to know what you are doing. Even if they did, your books would be paid for as would the students. They may have a great difficulty getting something to court. They may not win as you are not claiming the works are yours. I would imagine that they would probably take no action even if they knew. I am not a legal expert, though, and this is a decision you would have to take. My opinion is that it would be ok but I don’t know. I did not go down this route as the publishers didn’t want to give me permission and I accepted that. For sure there are many teachers on IM using standard textbooks and I can’t see publishers chasing them.

Getting permission to use other people’s material

But beyond that, what can you use that you will get permission for? So what do you need? Texts, pictures, videos and podcasts that you can adapt for your use. There are lots. TED lessons are excellent, they have videos with questions and answers built in and they can be used and adapted. They are good for testing listening ability and comprehension. They also have level guides so you know which students can handle them.

Every time you are surfing the web, keep an eye out for material that you can use, if you spot a good article, video or podcast or anything basically that you can use then see if you can get permission. I had success with top English football teams, they have podcasts and video interviews and with the right students, are far more interesting than the usual classroom. I have also had success with travel websites and cooking websites which often also contain videos and podcasts. If you are teaching other foreign languages the same would apply. In fact, any website that contains videos, podcasts and written articles are perfect choices. I would say I had at least 85% permission rate. You are giving free advertising to their websites and are not a competitor so they have no reason to refuse. The main criteria will be that you are not claiming to be the originator of the material and you give them prominence.

Basically, any website that has material that you feel you can use to make the classes interesting, is out there for you to commandeer for your classes. And if you are using Vedamo, which I strongly recommend, then it is simple to incorporate these into your lessons. Of course, videos and podcasts cannot be too long, probably ten minutes or so should be the maximum.

What next?

You then have to devise questions depending on the level of the students. For ideas on the type of questions to use, I would say look at your textbooks, what questions do they ask at the different levels and create similar. You will need to get a feel for how the textbooks develop their units and do the same so you have a complete course put together.

Another option is to partner with an online school that has complete courses on their sites. There are quite a few and they may well be happy that you are using their material as long as it is credited. You need to check with them but I would imagine some of them would be happy with you giving them a wider audience and potential new customers. I didn’t go down this route but I certainly looked at what is out there. Quite a few seem to have no problem with reproduction of their materials. It will be an easy way to get started.

If you link that stuff with the videos and podcasts that you have got permission to use you can have quite a bank of material right off the block. This is certainly the easiest way other than using standard textbooks.

Next time I will continue in this vein about putting your own courses together.


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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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