A new web site created by two school administrators helps teachers harness the power of the internet to become published authors. For a fee, the site shows teachers how to create their own education-related eBooks and provides a place to sell them online.

Called Teacher eBooks, the site ultimately is intended to serve as a clearinghouse where schools can purchase teacher-created curriculum and professional development materials for a fraction of the cost traditional textbook publishers might charge. But for the site to become successful, schools will need to embrace the eBook concept to a greater extent than they do now.

The site offers a web-based course, called “Awaken the Author Within You,” that shows teachers how to write and market their own eBooks. Then, teachers can sell their books on the site.

“It’s not only educational, there’s a business aspect. Teachers can make money selling their own eBooks online,” said Glenn Dietzel, vice principal of Lansdowne Public School in Sarnia, Ontario.

Dietzel developed the site with his partner Paul Jackson, a retired school principal. The two co-creators recommend a price range for eBooks based on their own research.

“A good 50-page solid eBook can sell for $19.95,” Dietzel said, adding that the author’s reputation also helps determine the price. The web site handles the credit card transaction process for teachers and takes a cut of each book sold.

Not only can teachers earn extra cash and become an expert in their field, but schools can use the site to buy educational materials inexpensively, Dietzel said.

Schools currently spend a lot of money on curriculum resources, but the low cost of eBooks could change that, he said.

So far, eBooks have been slow to catch on with the general public—and with schools in particular—for a number of reasons. Nonetheless, Dietzel says eBooks are “the wave of the future” because they are cheap, interactive, portable, and easily updated.

“When everybody has handheld devices and there are better-formatted eBooks, people will be jumping on eBooks,” he said.

Dianne Dillabough, a sixth-grade teacher for the Peel District School Board in Ontario, is halfway through writing her first eBook after completing the online course.

“I took the course because I had often been encouraged to write a book but didn’t want all the costs involved with the usual method. I heard about the eBook course and thought it might be the way to publish my book,” Dillabough said.

The course, which costs $29.95, covers all aspects of eBook publishing, from coming up with the big idea to marketing it. Teachers learn how to make their eBooks interactive by adding sound, video, and web links. They also learn the importance of writing in a friendly, informal style, Dietzel said.

“People can write about whatever they want, but I’m trying to keep the genre of the material … education-focused,” he said.

Although eBooks seem less formal than traditional books, they still require a great deal of time to produce, a rare commodity for many teachers. “Teachers are very busy people, and many have found that writing an eBook wasn’t as easy to do as they thought,” Dietzel said. Teachers would need to spend 10 to 15 hours a week to complete an eBook over a couple of months, he estimated.

Dillabough, who said she loved the eBook course, said she is currently halfway through writing her first book about teaching students to read and write nonfiction. “I was hoping to go much faster, but I am really enjoying the process and making more changes to my original idea than I expected,” she said.

Teachers who have presented at conferences or workshops might have most of the work done already.

Dillabough said she often gives workshops about her topic and provides detailed handouts that show a step-by-step method for teaching students how to read and write expository text. “Many people told me I should publish—or at least copyright—my material. So I finally decided to go for it,” she said.

The eBook course also emphasizes the importance of adhering to copyright rules. “When you write an eBook, we recommend that you source any material that comes from someone else,” Dietzel said. That means getting permission from the original author.

“Teachers publishing eBooks must be careful to give credit where necessary,” said Craig Wood, a school lawyer with the Virginia-based law firm McGuire Woods. “Especially when you’re selling them for money, it’s not enough to just give credit. You have to ask permission to reprint [material].”

Textbook publishers are actively looking for copyright infringement and probably would be very aggressive if a teacher violated copyright law, he said.

However, Wood said, teachers are free to publish curriculum content they’ve created for their jobs, providing they didn’t sign any agreements.

“I’m not aware of any school district that has an agreement that says when you create a curriculum it belongs to us,” Wood said. It’s difficult for a school district to claim ownership of curriculum, he said, because school districts typically don’t ask teachers to sign any type of copyright agreements, something that is a common practice in the private sector.

Naomi Gittins, staff attorney for the National School Boards Association, said forward-thinking school districts should form a policy concerning who owns intellectual property and have teachers sign an agreement when they are first hired to avoid any conflicts.

“Teachers and school districts should agree ahead of time so no misunderstandings arise,” Gittins said.

Dietzel said he also plans to create a free eBook trading web site for kids so they can trade eBooks like they’ve traded Pokemon characters.

“Kids love to read other kids’ material. They are just fascinated,” he said. “It’ll be a tremendous benefit to literacy once kids can see what they can do.”

Links:

Teacher eBooks
http://www.teacherebooks.com

Peel District School Board
http://www.peel.edu.on.ca

McGuire Woods Law Firm
http://www.mcguirewoods.com

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org