EdComs' Sophie Bessemer reveals some secrets of her trade – creating excellent education resources

Free digital resourcesHow do you decide what is a good teaching resource? High quality, relevant to the curriculum, engaging, and preferably free would probably cover it. You may also be looking for age appropriate, and interesting design and a teaching approach that you follow and understand.

As teachers you’ll be bombarded with “information” about stuff you simply can’t do without. Be it through the post or via e-mail, there are so many resources being produced that it is hard to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. So how do you filter or choose what to look at and order?

Since 1995, we at EdComs have been producing free education resources on behalf of clients from industry, charity and the public sector, from BP (see also "The anatomy of a free sponsored resource – BP") to the NSPCC to the Department for Education. And we like to think that our experience and educational expertise in this area has ensured that our resources (many of them award-winning) are as top quality as you can find. So, what lies behind the creation of outstanding educational programmes?

Testing and trialling with teachers

Well, we all believe passionately in the value of quality classroom resources and learning. It may sound trite to some perhaps, but it's nevertheless true. We listen and work with teachers every day and employ practitioners exclusively as our authors. But we don’t just rely on any one team’s innate expertise. It is a key part of ensuring that we keep meeting expectations and move with changing demands, fashions and policies that we have an expert teacher review panel involved at key stages of the development process.

We also participate in debate and developments in education as a whole. We’ll do in-depth research before a programme. We will test concepts and outlines with teachers across the UK, and then return to them again when we’ve drafted the content.

When we’re happy with that content it is then about putting the right design and presentation together. We’ll draft up a website, poster or teaching materials and again test the preferred options with our practising teachers. We’ll often include subject associations or key subject groups in the process too – you can’t consult enough with the experts!

Matching the client and school requirements

It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that the simple practice of iterative content production and design, followed slavishly and dogmatically, is the principal key to getting education resources right. What we’re trying to achieve with all the work – film, games, animations, print, website, training or live event – is a mutual benefit. If it doesn’t work for teachers and students they simply won’t respond to it or use it. And if it isn’t sufficiently close to the motivating themes for those providing the funding, the model isn’t sustainable or achieving its objectives.

In our opinion, the ideal programme will, therefore, delight those using it at school and provide the size of audience that a client would regard as rewarding their investment.

Measuring success

A good, if rather crude, gauge of initial success might be website traffic or the number of requests for print materials. A successful secondary programme can often generate requests from up to 50 per cent of UK schools, while a primary might be nearer 30 per cent. The traffic generated for a website varies rather more depending on marketing cycle, but could be in the 3-5000 visitors per month range. Ideally, there is also a more sophisticated cycle of evaluation, review, and revision following the initial production of resource.

For some longer-term clients we have introduced an annual evaluation process that looks back at the effectiveness of what has been produced, and forward to what new direction or demands might need to be met.

Respond to the curriculum as it changes

One of the axioms of the work we do, which mirrors the demands on twenty-first century teachers, is to match the curriculum as closely and clearly as possible. If we make it easy for teachers to see the links with their existing plans then they can fit our programme in as a complementary element. Allied to this is understanding and keeping on top of classroom practice and how teachers might actually use and adapt the resource. This is a pedagogical question but also a technical one. Policy and curriculum will change but there’s always a gap between the precise rubric and the adoption and adaptation in school. Good resources need to be practical not just policy- shaped.

Our new home for free resources: www.EdcomsTeachers.com

After many years of producing resources for hundreds of different clients in different media and different areas of the curriculum we’re now taking steps slightly more into the limelight. We’ve launched a website, edcomsteachers.com, that brings together many of our most current online free resources in one place. We want teachers to identify the EdComs gold star as a guarantee of rigour in educational resources and engage more directly online with us. Tells us what you think. Help us shape and develop our work. Come and browse the resources and find something you can use or adapt for your classroom right away.

Checklist for evaluating free resources

  • Curriculum - does it fit the curriculum and link to it clearly?
  • Accuracy and currency – is it up to date and factually accurate?
  • Healthy and safe – is there anything unsafe or unhealthy being promoted?
  • Funding – is this clear and is it equally obvious why are they doing it?
  • Provenance - who wrote it? Have teachers been involved?
  • Branding – are the size of logos too large or are there too many adverts?
  • Commercial messages – are there any overt commercial messages or encouragement of pester power?
  • Benefit – does the benefit to the pupils outweigh any cost to the school?
  • Compatible - is the source of the resource compatible with the ethos of the school
  • Value for money – free is best!
  • Level – is the content pitched at the right level and depth of information for your students? Does it differentiate?
  • Clarity – does it present its information clearly and in an easy-to-use fashion? Is it well organised?
  • Engaging – is the information presented in the right form to excite and engage your students? Is it challenging, interesting and appealing?

More information

EdComsTeachers for free digital reources for teachers: www.edcomsteachers.com  
EdComs company site www.EdComs.com 
See also "The anatomy of a free sponsored resource – BP", and "EdComs sets out resources 'free lunch' for teachers" about the new website

Sophie BessemerSophie Bessemer is head of digital communications at EdComs. She has more than 10 years’ experience creating and delivering to teachers free educational resources.

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