How ESL Coin will use blockchain to help content creators flourish
If you are questioning the impact of digital resources in education, here is a chart to consider provided by the Rand Corporation:
This demand stems from educators who wish to significantly cut down on preparation time, and the educators creating and supplying this content have made millions. Their income flows from online marketplaces designed specifically for digital education resources, such as Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT), along with broader image-sharing platforms like Pinterest and Instagram.
Today’s digital content creation tools have low price tags and smooth learning curves. As a result, independent freelancers have infused the content creation industry with talent and motivation. However, three significant issues stand as barriers to entry: Ease of Distribution, Proven Value and Intellectual Property Rights.
The Ease of Distribution Problem
While the digitization of educational content has made it much easier to distribute, the process could still be smoother. Issues still exist with global distribution costs and content siloed under different permissioned networks.
One of the most tantalizing aspects of digital distribution is reaching a global market, but the need to exchange fiat currencies, such as the dollar for the pound, limits potential outside of the creator’s borders. With an extra exchange fee involved, there would be little chance of a teacher in Russia downloading a simple lesson plan priced in dollars. For many, small purchases are just not worth that extra fee.
Moreover, the friction of the sign-up process becomes a deterrent for many potential users, such as a teacher who needs a last-minute lesson plan. Creating an account, confirming an email and adding a payment option take time that discourage many from signing up. This redundant onboarding process has no clear strategic benefit to anyone involved.
From an infrastructure standpoint, content siloed in a central server runs many risks. If the host’s server suddenly crashes, becomes hacked, or is shut down because of a business closure, the creator’s content becomes, at least temporarily, unavailable for consumption.
The Proven Value Problem
The industry trusts curriculum and material that has worked in the past, and the past fits with a trusted brand name. Paying for content from a relatively unknown 3rd party is so out of the norm that only 2% of schools are using TpT’s school-level purchasing program, forcing most teachers to pay out-of-pocket.
At the moment, most institutions would not likely consider budgeting a significant amount of money for TPT or Pinterest material, and for good reason. What is their educational value? What the major publishing companies lack in concrete performance data, they make up for in reputation and institutional familiarity. While an independent creator’s star rating does hold weight, it is still uncertain who gave those ratings, as well as if the rating reflects true educational value versus superficial enjoyment.
Teachers spend an excess of time sifting through low-quality content to find that diamond in the rough, similar to shopping at a garage sale. How can these sites provide quality content quickly without limiting the earning potential of novice or specialized creators?
The Intellectual Property Theft Problem
An inability to prove academic quality might hurt creators in the long-run, but nothing quashes dreams like a lawsuit, a point of friction the New York Times presented a decade ago. The conflict lies in work made for hire laws which allow an employer to claim a teacher’s work if it was used in their classrooms, making such work illegal to sell according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Content creators themselves file claims of IP theft against other vendors on sites like TpT. These sites, for lack of manpower, put the burden of proof on the creator filing the claim, making verification a long, complicated process for an individual plaintiff.
Recently, a Canadian school district was ordered by a federal court to provide 7 years of lesson plans. The plaintiff, Access Copyright, represents thousands of Canadian content creators who are demanding compensation for countless unauthorized photocopies.
Even Amazon had to adjust their business plan, as their open project, Inspire, failed to find root with so many content creators complaining of copyright infringement. They now offer Ignite, a restricted marketplace where educational content creators and their content are vetted before being posted on the market. While Ignite seems to address some of the IP theft and content quality issues, their vetting system bottlenecks content production rate and presents very high barriers to entry.
Blockchain as a Solution
Before diving into how blockchain technology addresses each of the issues raised above, it would be best to focus discussion to the English as a Second Language (ESL) industry, as this area will likely be at the forefront of blockchain in education due to its inherent cross-border nature. ESL Coin is a blockchain-based platform that aims to address numerous holes in the ESL industry through a unifying cryptocurrency based on Ethereum.
The Ease of Distribution Solution
Because the ESL Coin token is a borderless store of value, content creators can sell to a global market without incurring currency exchange fees. Pricing strategies can be more creative through automated microtransactions powered by Ethereum’s smart contract feature. Whether content is sold as a one-time purchase, a subscription, or per use, content creators can precisely adjust their models and values to fit their target users, no matter their location.
Additionally, within ESL Coin’s decentralized network, content creators can set up a marketplace that does not require potential users to choose a unique username and password to purchase an item. As long as the user participates within the ESL Coin network, their identity is already verified and their account secured, considerably reducing a barrier to purchase. In an emergency, an educator can depend on an evergrowing global collection of content all under one set of credentials.
A blockchain peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing system ensures content is readily available whenever needed. There is no siloed central server, so server crashes, hacks and business closures will not delay content consumption. A creator’s content is transferable from anywhere it is shared, preventing specific points of failure from disrupting content demand.
The Proven Value Solution
The talent pool for content creators in the ESL industry is global. ESL content from Nigeria is created with a much different estimation of value than content from Australia, India or Argentina. Apart from cultural differences, the value of ESL content can also be divided into interests, as a lawyer might value a resource much differently than a chef or sci-fi enthusiast. The diversity of the potential purchasers is as widespread as it gets.
ESL Coin’s network will implement a robust ratings system that leverages its industry-wide proliferation to the advantage of all users. Much of the leverage is realized through users’ self-sovereign IDs, which share valuable data in a secure manner. Here is just a handful of ways ESL Coin aims to optimize content ratings:
Attach ESL Coin-verified exam scores to student-used content – With the increase in content claiming to improve knowledge or skills comes a need to measure and assess improvement. Currently, TOEFL and IELTS have long been the gold standard for English evaluation, but exams such as Duolingo’s English Test are emerging as competitors. It will be possible for English learners to carry around a basket, or metascore, of all their assessment results.
Some content might prove valuable in assisting with the IELTS, while others find value in assisting with an emerging exam. ESL Coin helps raise the value of assessments by linking the results automatically to university performance, which, in turn, would raise the value of content used to achieve the assessment score.
Attach ESL Coin-verified teacher/institution reputation to purchased material – There will be numerous apps that help build a teacher’s or institution’s reputation, some skill-based and others interest-based, some quantitative and others qualitative. Content will receive bonus recognition and a stronger reputation when used by a high-performing teacher or institution.
ESL Coin-verified users with responsible voting standards – The self-sovereign ID system strengthens the value of a participant’s rating. Those who display outlier rating patterns will have their impact weakened, while those who put extra thought and reflection will strengthen their vote’s weight.
Segment ratings by demographic and interest groups – ESL Coin’s open database will help optimize targeting specific demographics. Content creation for niche markets could become a feasible way for a creator to capitalize on their true interests while diversifying a learner’s quality content choices.
Transparency is a guiding principle of ESL Coin, so any measure to make a rating more reflective of a participant’s true reputation and performance will be presented and voted on by the ESL Coin Co-op.
The Intellectual Property Theft Solution
This might be the simplest solution ESL Coin offers the publishing industry. The methods for achieving this solution sit at the core of most blockchain use cases in general.
Timestamping – ESL Coin will use the DECENT blockchain to timestamp and certify content the moment it is published onto the ESL Coin network. Any conflict that emerges regarding originality can easily be resolved with the timestamped certification.
Usage History – If an institution or school district has a work made for hire policy and questions whether a teacher has used published material in their classroom, ESL Coin can provide evidence of that document’s usage history to assist in reaching a judgement. Many employers might decide to stop such a black and white policy in favor of the next option.
Revenue Sharing – This feature allows institutes and districts to come to creative and logical contractual agreements with teachers who are skilled content creators. ESL Coin’s smart contracts make complex agreements manageable through reliable automated execution. Additionally, such partnerships as graphic designers and instructors should flourish in an environment with automated contracts and no need to build up trust: they can focus primarily on how their skills and style match.
Content as a Charitable Contribution – For content creators who prefer to share what they produce rather than sell it, ESL Coin protects the copyright of free content just as much as the content for sale. Premium content can also be shared or donated directly and restrictively to the intended recipient(s) without fear of its illicit dispersion. The control and transparency over donations should increase philanthropic influence within the industry.
By addressing the issues quality control and intellectual property rights while maintaining an open doors participation policy, ESL Coin strives to enrich and empower ESL content creators at both at the independent and organizational levels.