I spent some time a few weeks ago exploring the new BetterLesson site and basically fell in love. Think of a lesson plan web site designed on top of a Facebook-like structure. You post lessons, materials and units to your account and share them with others.
You find colleagues by area, by content area and by grade level. You find lessons in a wide variety of ways. What I especially like is that the site was started and is maintained by former teachers. BetterLesson is the kind of 21st century tool that can actually make a difference.
I recently connected with Chris Cullen, the Community Director of the site, and he agreed to let me post some of my questions and his responses:
Glenn Wiebe: What makes a featured lesson?
Chris Cullen: We are working on creating a “Featured Educators” page in which we identify teachers based on certain criteria and then put them front and center on the website as the package deal for finding great units, lessons, and files.
GW: How can you control quality of lessons?
CC: We will depend on bottom-up and top-down approaches to this. Bottom-up will be crowd-sourcing, web 2.0 metric wisdom. The most viewed and downloaded float to the top of searches (or are featured). We will also institute some type of rating (perhaps the “likes” similar to Facebook’s) in the near future. Top-down method will be to have 1-2 (or more) former teachers dedicated to identifying great teachers, great content, and featuring them according to grade level, subject, etc.
GW: Is there way to encourage users to be less “face-less” and to complete their bios?
CC: I share your feelings. When the site grows, we’ll find creative ways to make the site more professional networky and highly encourage photo and bio, among other pieces of info. For now, we can only highly encourage through messages and emails- which we’ve done.
GW: Will there be a chat feature?
CC: It’s on the to do list. Right now, users can send messages which go to email. Then you have to login to respond. We know it’s clunky. It’s not a priority, though, at this stage. Next, an inbox-esque feature (it’s hard to do well–Facebook hasn’t even mastered it). But it’s a priority within the next few months. Then, in-site chatting. Baby steps. Do it right.
GW: Many like the Wall-to-Wall feature in Facebook. Is that in the works?
CC: Love the idea. I’ll put it to the team.
GW: Can you make some sort of requirement or incentive to upload files in order to download someone else’s stuff?
CC: I like how Scribd has a big message that reminds you to upload as part of the community. Something similar will come. You recognize the pitfalls of 1 for 1. Our focus right now, for the beta pilot, is for educators to use BetterLesson to upload and organize. By the time we go public, the site will be stocked and seeded, and well-organized and navigable with high-quality resources. We’re getting there.
As Chris said, the site is in beta right now and so is accepting users slowly. But travel on over, poke around and apply for an account. Pretty sweet stuff!