Thursday, July 16, 2009

Big Idea #2: Ultimate Lesson Plan Database/Search Engine

This is part two of a special week-long series called Big Idea Week, ideas that I hope will become realities one day soon.

The Problem

There are many lesson plan databases out there already--that by itself is not a new or bold idea. Unfortunately, these websites share one or both of these flaws:
  1. The lesson plans aren't very good in terms of quality or quantity.
  2. They're not free to access.
The fact of the matter is this: there is no free, comprehensive, high quality teacher resource database on the Internet. There are too many cooks in the kitchen, and so no single site is even close to being the one-stop shop they aspire to be.

The first part of the problem is that too many people want to create their own proprietary database, which limits the scope of their content to whatever is uploaded by members or developed themselves. This leads to many individuals and companies charging for access, which doesn't really work: teachers, not school districts, are the ones searching for lesson ideas, and most aren't going to pay for anything online.

I've found that more often than not, the best lesson plans, projects and related ideas are rarely on any sort of "lesson plan website," free or not. They can be found in all the corners of the web: blogs, individual teacher websites, non-profit organization websites, YouTube, and often on sites not directly related to education at all. It's sometimes difficult to find lesson ideas when using any search engine; it requires a lot of patience and knowledge of keywords, operators and so forth.

The Solution

The ultimate lesson plan website would be part search engine and part database. It would be a metasearch engine, surveying a long list of known education sites at the same time. The database part would allow educators to upload materials not available anywhere else, without the need for them to create their own site. The interface would be simple, Google-esque even, with advanced search options available.

That part would be rather easy, but to make it work better than what already exists, you would need to employ people to, fine tune the search engine and write reviews and descriptions of the uploaded content. Content would be classified by keywords, subject, grade level, and what part of the lesson was included (i.e. complete lesson, lesson idea, game, study guide, project, extension, handout, lab, etc). This would provide a consistent level of quality control and make search results more meaningful and useful.

Most importantly, it would be completely free to submit content and free to search and access everything as well. That means all of the pay-for-access lesson plan websites would be out of luck. The website would get revenue from relevant advertisements, Google AdSense, affiliate sales and preferably grants and other charitable donations.

Why this doesn't exist already?

Honestly, I'm not sure. This seems to me a glaring need, and I'm surprised that a research university hasn't invested their time and effort in this, since so many seem to be invested in helping improve education. I think they would be in the best position to have the resources and the knowledgeable people to get this idea off the ground.

There are individuals and corporations that are certainly trying, but as usual, it seems most are just out to profit from school districts too willing to spend money on the next big thing (or whatever a neighboring district is spending their money on).

Stop by later today for Big Idea #3!