Edward Upton, Who Profits from Excellent Education?

My really rough notes from a presentation at #BeBettr. The usual disclaimer applies, things may be inaccurate. Plus uploaded from my iDevice, so expect mistakes.

Of course this talk has some bias because Edward is running just such a service, but a lot of the arguments here inspired some internal debate for me about the motivations of the different roles in creating and consuming online resources for teaching. His point about the dozen or so failed public sector projects is powerful for me (since at least £40m has apparently been misspent) but also it’s true that we need to make the most of our inspiring content and educators, especially in web education. Whatever your take on the solution, there seems to be a place for these types of services.

Edward’s talk is about what it’s like to have a startup in the education sector, Teachable.net.

The majority of your life’s education happens in school. However, there are only a finite number of teachers out there. We need to become more efficient with our practices of conveying education. Also, we must make the most of inspirational teaching content.

So how do you make more of the engaging teachers’ time? We need innovation. For him this will only come through getting private enterprise investing in education.

Before starting this service, he sat with his teacher friends who felt demoralised because they were overworked and spent too much time preparing lessons. There’s also a lot of reinventing the wheel.

His idea is to create a marketplace where teachers upload content, it goes through a quality review process and individuals on the other end pay to download it. Individual teachers are the ones that subscribe to this. Every time a teacher’s content is downloaded, they get a cut of the profits.

They now have 50,000 teacher users (consuming content). They’ve got 4,000 educational items of content. But what’s radical about this? What’s unusual? It’s the money thing.

Statement: Education is a noble act, it’s not for making money.

Often 20% of teachers think this way. However the BETT show exists in its current format because schools have a budget and they want to spend it.

Statement: Individual teachers should not be profiting from educational material generated around their job.

Sometimes schools sell their material. They can give the money to charity, split the money between the school and the individual teacher. Their model though is that they take 50% to cover funding of their site.

There have been a dozen other such public sector initiatives to start this kind of content sharing platform. Curriculum Online cost £40m, where public bodies and corporate companies could post content. However it was a complete failure. In his view there were cultural problems that were it’s biggest failing. The entrepreneurial culture is suited to run this kind of venture, not the committee based public sector.

Posted on Friday 14 January 2011.

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