Just Wondering, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! And warmest Christmas wishes, for those lectōrēs fidēlissimī who celebrate the holiday. I left you yesterday with this question:

Say that you were a young doctor, lawyer, accountant, plumber, electrician, auto mechanic … you name it. At some point early in your training, you confront the critical issue of Where The Money Comes From. But young teachers usually don’t. Why? And how would the world be different if they did?

As I mentioned, I’ve been wondering about that for a few days … and I’m also wondering why I never wondered about it before! Perhaps things are different for my colleagues in private schools. After all, even if you don’t formally discuss the issue, it’s pretty clear Where The Money Comes From there: it comes from some combination of tuition revenues and endowment income, if the school is fortunate enough to have an endowment. When I was a young teacher, I certainly understood, in general, Where The Money Comes From to run American public schools: there’s a mixture of federal, state, and local tax dollars, a mixture that varies widely depending on where the school is located, among other factors. But no one ever sat down with me and explained the different “pots” of money and how they’re used – and how, by law, money normally can’t be moved from one “pot” to another. (I remember, years ago, when I was chair of the Foreign Language Department at a previous school, a colleague wanted to purchase a file cabinet with a special grant for “classroom supplies” – but he couldn’t, because file cabinets are “equipment,” not “supplies.” That was a difficult explanation! In the end, we did find some money for a file cabinet for him … but not in the “supplies” budget, of course.)

Those budgetary restrictions aren’t unique to public education, of course – if you’ve ever had anything to do with the operations of a nonprofit or a religious institution, you’ve probably run into similar, possibly even more baffling restrictions. But the staff and board members of nonprofits, churches, and other religious organizations get some training or explanation about the restrictions … or, if they don’t, the results are unfortunate. Why is it, then, that the details of schools’ operating budgets, the sources of the funds, and the restrictions on expenditures are so often kept secret? I can certainly understand that the details of some expenditures might be kept private … but schools are public institutions! And in most places in the United States, citizens have a right to inspect public records … so it’s not as though the budgetary details could really be kept secret forever. And most school administrators I know really don’t have any personal interest in keeping secrets, either. When the budgetary realities are understood, their teachers tend to make fewer unreasonable requests … and there are always plenty of unreasonable requests (and a few reasonable ones) coming across their desks in any case.

Why is it, then, that schools don’t routinely inform and train their teachers about Where The Money Comes From? I’m really not sure. I suppose, though, that it might be a vestige of the factory-model system; after all, in a twentieth-century manufacturing firm, why would you bother telling the assembly-line workers about the details of your firm’s annual budget and revenue forecast? That’s very far removed from their daily task of making widgets, and they probably neither know or care about such things anyway. That wasn’t a bad way to run a company in 1950 or even 1970, but in today’s turbulent economy, those production-line workers are very concerned about the company’s long-term prospects … and they often have very good ideas for cost savings when their managers ask them.

I have a feeling that the same would be true of schools, factory-model and otherwise: the people closest to the front lines know where certain money is well-spent and other funds are wasted.

For example, many teachers complain about the costs – both in money and in time – of adopting, ordering, inventorying, distributing, collecting, and accounting for textbooks, especially when the information in them is often outdated even before they’re printed … and especially when today’s learners find it difficult to relate to static words on a printed page. And I think of a former principal of mine, now long retired, who was convinced that all of his teachers needed two boxes of large paper clips and two boxes of small ones per year, no more and no less. One of my colleagues, a P.E. teacher, asked him point-blank what the P.E. department could possibly do with so many paper clips … and I think he finally realized that some teachers might need less than two boxes of each type of clip per year. That was well over a decade ago, when the factory model was much stronger than it is today … and when budgets in my face-to-face school district were much stronger than they are now.

One odd benefit of the Great Recession for learners and teachers, I think, has been the realization that Business As Usual is simply impossible. When everything is open for reconsideration, new ideas naturally emerge, and I hope that the Tres Columnae Project will help a lot of schools and teachers in this time of financial struggle. Not only can the Tres Columnae materials help teachers work “smarter, not harder,” as the old saying goes, but they can significantly reduce costs for textbooks, copy paper, photocopies, and the kinds of “supplementary materials” that teachers often buy to help a particular student. Unlike a hard-copy textbook, the Tres Columnae pages never wear out … and no one will vandalize them or tear them out of the (non-existent) book. No need to make copies, legal or otherwise; no need to spend hours grading and returning paper worksheets, only to watch students leave them on the floor under their desks. No way for organizationally-challenged students to lose things, either, since all their results are safely and securely stored online!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What benefits can you see from giving teachers (and parents and students and other community members) more detailed information about Where The Money Comes From to operate their schools?
  • What disadvantages or concerns can you think of?
  • What do you think of the potential cost savings from something like the Tres Columnae Project?
  • What other benefits – or disadvantages – can you see?

Once again, I wish all lectōrēs fidēlissimī who celebrate the holiday a very Merry Christmas, and I thank you again for continuing to read … and for coming back even on those dreary November and December days when sickness and too-busy-ness kept me from posting regularly. grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Published in: on December 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just Wondering, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In the words of the holiday song, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” … but I’d like to take “wonderful” in a slightly different direction in today’s post. Once I’ve been away from the daily grind of the factory-model school for a few days, I often find that I have time to wonder about things that I normally take for granted. So, today, we’ll take a look at a few of those wonders, and we’ll continue tomorrow (if all goes well) and after the Christmas holiday weekend.

Returning for a moment to yesterday’s final questions, I wonder:

  • Why my students and I are so exhausted at this half-way point of the school year;
  • Why we, the teaching profession, so frequently fall back on the way we’ve always done things even when there are better, more effective, less difficult practices available – like the regular pattern of rehearsal that I mentioned in yesterday’s post; and
  • Why, in times of budgetary disasters, educators don’t tend to look for more cost-effective ways to do things.

I also wonder if these three wonders are somehow connected! And I think they are.

One common thread is that idea of the way we’ve always done things. If you’re a long-time lēctor fidēlissimus of this blog, you know that always is a problematic word for me. Latin teachers, for example, tend to believe that the language has always been taught with grammar-translation methodology, even though that system is, historically speaking, a very recent development. School people, in general, assume that schools have always looked and operated pretty much the way they do now – or at least the way they did when we ourselves were students. But factory-model schools are also a fairly recent innovation; even the idea of one teacher delivering information to a group of learners passively seated in rows dates only to the establishment of the Prussian system in the late eighteenth century, as a friend of mine reminded me in a recent email. Before that, the schools that existed – and the teaching and learning situations in which most people obtained the knowledge, skills, and understandings that would guide their work and daily life – were very different places.

As I was writing this post, an email from eSchool News arrived in my in-box that described this “flipped” model of science and engineering education, in which students “watch lectures at home and practice in class.” I’ve only had time to skim the article so far, but I’m intrigued … and I think this system is very much in line with the way that the Tres Columnae Project would be used in a “blended” learning environment. What do you think?

One of the wonders I’ve been grappling with over the past few days has to do with the ways that we train teachers and school administrators … and, in particular, with a significant difference between the professional induction of young teachers and that of young members of other professions. There are obvious differences like the length of the induction process, the degree of supervision and guidance that young professionals receive, and the level of mastery that’s expected – but I’ve addressed those in other blog posts, and they’ve certainly been at the forefront of the national conversation about education. What I’m wondering about today is different:

Say that you were a young doctor, lawyer, accountant, plumber, electrician, auto mechanic … you name it. At some point early in your training, you confront the critical issue of Where The Money Comes From. But young teachers usually don’t. Why? And how would the world be different if they did?

I’ll leave you to ponder that question, and we’ll pick up with more about it – and why I think it’s important – in tomorrow’s post. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Logistics, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  As promised, today we’ll continue with our discussion of logistical issues … specifically, the issues of Ownership and Money.  Yesterday, I outlined the subscription model that we envision for the mature Tres Columnae project, which includes:

  • A large amount of free content, freely available to everyone;
  • Free registration, with the opportunity to comment and to participate in Continuing Virtual Seminars;
  • An inexpensive Basic Annual subscription (maybe $10-20 per year for an individual), which adds the ability to use – and track your scores on – interactive quizzes and exercises;
  • A small per-item charge (not yet set) for editing if you want to submit your own stories, images, audio, or video;
  • A Standard Monthly subscription for those who want to contribute regularly; and
  • A Premium subscription for those who want to contribute a lot.

You’ll be able to choose the plan that’s right for you, and you’ll be able to change plans at your convenience as your needs change. The more you contribute, of course, the faster the project will grow, and the more fun it will be for everyone.  So we hope you’ll choose to contribute a lot! 🙂

Today we’ll take a closer look at where the money will be going … specifically, the money that will go back to the community in the form of rewards and royalties.  In addition to paying our hosting, development, and editing costs, we plan to provide

  • prizes and awards to participants who submit particularly outstanding stories, images, audio, or video (We thought about gift certificates, subscription credit, and free “stuff” of the types we describe in the next paragraph);
  • opportunities for participants to make “stuff” that includes their content (for example, T-shirts with the images they created, or illustrated books with their stories, or DVDs with the videos they created); and
  • royalties for participants whose “stuff” is included in others’ “stuff.” (For example, if you want an illustrated book that contains your stories with someone else’s illustrations, we want to compensate the illustrator. If you want a “complete” DVD with all the video created for a particular Lectiō, we want to compensate the creators of each video.)

In short, at Tres Columnae, we really want to stand behind our core value of Ownership. Not only should you own the learning process metaphorically, but you should actually, legally own the content you create as part of your learning. In too many schools, ownership issues are so unclear that student-created content ends up being destroyed – especially if it’s the work of several different students. No one knows whether a particular student (or parent) would mind if the work was published … so it isn’t. Instead, it’s deleted or discarded. What a sad message that sends to the student creators!

At Tres Columnae, we certainly understand the legal and logistical issues that lead schools to treat students’ work in this way, but we feel strongly that there’s a better way. When you subscribe to Tres Columnae, or when you offer content to us, the licensing issues will be clear, both to you and (if you’re not legally able to make a binding agreement) to your parents or guardians. That way, your rights will be protected, but your works can still be shared with a wider audience.  And, if people like your “stuff” – and want it to be included in products like T-shirts, little books, or DVDs – you’ll be able to profit from the work that you’ve done.   It’s a win for you, a win for your friends and family, and a win for the Tres Columnae project.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Tres Columnae is for you, so if you hate the pricing model, we’d really like to know!
  • We’d also like to know if you can come up with a good alternative that would allow more content to be free, while still maintaining our quality standards.
  • One obvious alternative is advertiser support.  Personally, I don’t think that’s a good model for our project, for several reasons:
    • Our focus isn’t exactly advertiser-friendly.  (Who exactly would advertise?  Businesses from the Roman Empire or medieval Europe? 🙂 Garum manufacturers?)
    • One of our primary audiences, teenagers, is attractive to advertisers.
    • But I don’t really think we should be delivering them to potential advertisers!
    • In the course of a day, teenagers see enough advertising as it is; I don’t think that external advertising should be part of our Joyful Learning Community.
  • On the other hand, if you, the community, strongly prefer an advertising-supported site, we’ll certainly take that into consideration.
  • Which level of subscription would best meet your needs, and those of your students?
  • Do you see a need for a different type of subscription – one that we haven’t thought of?
  • What do you think would be a reasonable per-item charge for editing?
  • And, when we do get to the point of offering subscriptions, what forms of payment would you want us to be able to handle?
    • Some online educational content providers only take PayPal, for example.
    • Others take credit cards.
    • Still others can handle institutional purchase orders.
  • What would work best for you?

Tune in next time, when we’ll return to the Tres Columnae storyline, and to our consideration of verbal aspect, with a series about participles and infinitives. We hope you enjoy them, and the stories in which they occur! In the meantime, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus! Please keep those comments and emails coming.

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 10:41 am  Comments (6)  
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Logistics, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday, I closed with this set of questions:

But how will the illustrations, audio, video, and additional stories become part of the project? And is it really true that anyone will be able to contribute? If so, how can we possibly ensure the accuracy and quality of submissions?

Today, as promised, I hope to answer those questions, which will also require us to take a brief look at some surprisingly literal implications of our central value of Ownership.  We’ll continue this logistical conversation in tomorrow’s post.

Until now, when we’ve talked about Ownership in the Tres Columnae system, it’s been rather metaphorical. We discussed Ownership of Learning, for example, in a series of posts like this one, contrasting Tres Columnae’s “subject-centered” approach to our discipline with the “teacher-centered” approach that often dominates schools, and pointing out how our “workshop” model is different from the “factory” model upon which most schools operate.

But in addition to the metaphorical sense, Ownership obviously has a literal meaning. Who owns – and therefore controls – the stories, images, audio, and video that make up the Tres Columnae project? Who can access them, and under what conditions? And, whenever we talk about Ownership, we usually have to talk about Money, too. What are the financial implications of something like the Tres Columnae project?

In a “perfect world,” I would want the whole project to be freely available to everyone, without any cost to anyone and without any external advertising. Unfortunately, Tres Columnae’s hosting provider doesn’t live in that perfect world; they naturally expect to be paid for the bandwidth they provide us. A perfect world would also have abundant numbers of excellent Latinists, all vying with each other to contribute their expertise to the project – again without any financial compensation. If you know any, please send them our way! 🙂 But in our current world, such editors’ time has monetary value. (That’s obvious, down the road, if and when they’re working full-time on the project, but it’s also true now, when they’re “squeezing us in” among other commitments.) Our goal is to provide the best experience possible for all our users, and to do so at the most reasonable price that we can.

With these considerations, here is our current vision for the economic side of the Tres Columnae project:

  • First, a lot of “stuff” is, and will always be, free. You’ve been reading stories and looking at other things on this blog for months now, and they’ll continue to be available here. As the project grows, final versions of stories, illustrations, and audio will be freely available, without charge, on our website at www.TresColumnae.com. We think that video will be freely available, too, if our participants use an external site like YouTube or TeacherTube to host it. The free content (and there will be a lot of it!) is our gift back to the world, and to Latin learners, and to the profession of Classics. Without you, none of this would be possible! So, if you’d like to read, listen, or view things online for free, please go ahead.
  • We hope that many of our “free” viewers will choose to register, again for free, at www.TresColumnae.com. When you register, you also gain the ability to make comments on stories, to make your own internal Tres Columnae blog, and to participate in the Continuing Virtual Seminars which we’ve discussed in posts like this one.
  • After you’ve registered, we hope that many of you will choose to upgrade to a Basic Annual subscription, which will give you access to the interactive grammar explanations, quizzes, and exercises. Since we’ll be tracking your scores, and giving you the ability to submit them to your teacher (or to see your students’ results), we’ll encounter some additional costs for webspace, bandwidth, software development, and maintaining databases. We anticipate that a Basic Annual subscription will cost about $10 – 20 per year for an individual; if there’s sufficient interest, we may be able to offer a discount for classes and schools. Since the exercises are self-correcting and offer immediate feedback to learners, we think they’re a much better value (both for students and for teachers) than the “traditional” approach of workbooks, worksheets, and the like, which have to be collected, graded, and (in the case of worksheets) often created and certainly photocopied by the already-busy teacher. With Tres Columnae, there’s no need to copy anything, and the student can’t “lose the book” on the way home from school!

If you’re a Registered participant, or if you have a Basic Annual subscription, you’ll be able to contribute stories, pictures, audio, and video to the project, but we’ll ask you to pay a small fee per item to cover our editing costs. If you’ve ever looked at students’ writing – even their writing in English – you know that it can frequently benefit from polishing and revision! We’ll leave that revision and polishing in the participants’ hands, where we feel it rightfully belongs, but we’ll make specific suggestions about the improvements that need to be made. (“Your story has real promise, but you used the nominative singular forms for all nouns, including the ones that clearly weren’t!”)

Not only will the fees cover the cost of our time and our hosting costs, but we think they’ll also encourage participants to submit higher-quality work.  We may also be able to provide discounts, over time, for participants who consistently submit high-quality work … and we hope to offer discounts to classes and schools where teachers are willing to take on some of the editing for their students’ work.

We also want to know what you think about some alternatives for editing charges. We had considered the following options:

  • a flat rate per item submitted, whether that item is a story, an illustration, an audio clip, or a video
  • different rates for different types of content (illustrations require less editing, for example, than audio. Audio just needs to be listened to once. Stories may require multiple drafts; videos may need to be re-edited and re-submitted.)
  • a lower charge if the item is “perfect” (or almost perfect) the first time it’s submitted
  • discounts for participants who, over time, submit work that’s uniformly high in quality and requires minimal editing.

What do you think? And what do you think would be a reasonable per-item rate for editing?

  • If you know you’ll be contributing a lot, and doing so on a regular basis, we’ll encourage you to upgrade to a Standard Monthly subscription, which will include a certain number of contributions per month at no additional charge. If you “go over the limit,” you’ll be able to pay a per-item charge for the extra contributions.
  • If you know you’ll be contributing vast amounts, we may make a Premium Monthly subscription available. It would include unlimited contributions but, naturally, would cost a bit more.

Tune in next time for more about Ownership, including the rewards that we plan to offer for particularly outstanding contributions, and the royalties we plan to pay to participants whose submissions are reused in … stuff that we’ll talk about tomorrow.  And, in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming.