Image: Todd Lappin
Following my Halloween Materials Design Challenge in October, I have a small confession to make.
In addition to hopefully generating some nice materials with interesting variations on a central theme across the broader 'PLN', I was actually watching to see what would happen and whether it would confirm an impression that has been slowly building up for me over a matter of years.
The impression was basically confirmed, and that is: Across an extensive 'PLN' that features literally dozens and dozens of learning materials writers--and I'm referring here to the 'famous' ones, the ones many of you line up to see strut their stuff at conferences and the like--it's remarkable how very few of them appear to enjoy making and sharing stuff simply for the sake of it.
Okay, there was one enigmatic exception (in the case of Patrick Jackson -- who in all fairness has always been the sporting sort willing to get involved and do stuff), but generally speaking the silence when it came to acknowledged experts throwing in 10-20 minutes to generate some material was deafening.
Of course, the stuff that WAS generated, from at-the-chalkface teachers, was excellent. And that WAS the point.
And we could of course put this down to me not really having anywhere near as prominent a role or influence in certain materials design and ELT author circles as I might have erroneously and naively presumed (read here: they don't bother to read this blog!--and who could blame them?).
But before anyone dares mention the idea: don't for a second claim these folks are too busy. They're certainly no busier than your average language teacher, several of whom managed over a period of 4 weeks to throw something together and share it with the wider blogosphere.
And anyway, let's face it: for an expert writer who knows his/her stuff, it would have taken less than 15 minutes to make something.
Let's get away from the idea of the Halloween once-off, however... I look around at blogs and what happens on Facebook and Twitter, and you know what? Most of the so-called expert and famous ELT writers out there share very little of anything directly to do with their 'craft.'
I think it was Jeremy Harmer who recently wrote on his blog that some people just write (or create) because they have to. It's a burning in them that can't be held down or in. It rewards itself for the person who loves doing it. It must out.
Based on the fact I see very few ELT authors writing, designing and sharing materials for the sheer enjoyment of it (as in, outside the bounds of commercial publications and author appearances), I'm beginning to wonder how many of them do in fact love what they do.
Is it a passion, or just a job?
And I'll confess that I don't really get it. Part of being a great materials writer is experimenting and connecting with the sorts of people who want to use new materials. Experimenting in an established publishing house can be rather like being in a lemming reserve and finding more creative ways to encourage the poor little blighters to run for the cliffs, so I've often wondered why I don't see the so-called experts doing more public and shared experimentation with materials writing and design.
If good materials writers genuinely love what they do and want to be better at it, why do they apparently do so little of it (outside the bounds of a protective but otherwise muffling contract where almost everything about the material is predetermined to start with)?
I'm known to have an opinion from time to time (!), but I've lit this potential fire and I might as well follow through with it: in this day and interconnected age of professional community, if you are presenting/announcing/claiming yourself to be a professional and passionate author of learning materials and you aren't regularly experimenting with your craft in a way that shares it and invites participation across the broader teaching/learning community, you are at serious risk of retarding both your development and relevance in an emerging brave new world of educational resources.