Over the last few days, the team at the TES have been once again recommending their TES Pro software, this time at a knock-down price. Now, it would be fair of me to say that I am a big fan of the TES website, and think that the resource bank is a massive success of which it should be proud. I also have a lot of time for Michael Shaw who seems to be managing the TES Pro launch; presumably an attempt to monetise the otherwise free-to-access wonder of TESConnect.
The heavy promotion of late, quite understandably, led @kalinski1970 to post this:
I've looked at it a few times and I still have no idea whst tespro is for and why I would pay to have it (esp the storage)—
(@kalinski1970) September 01, 2013
with which I agreed. Certainly I haven’t seen anybody else rave about it. Indeed, I couldn’t find anyone else say they’d even used it! Today, @MrMichaelShaw replied to the original message suggesting that, aside from the storage space, there was plenty of “exclusive content” to make it worth the £20 outlay. In response, I suggested I would sign up for the free trial and review it, so here is the outcome.
What does it promise?
One of my initial issues with the whole thing is trying to work out what it’s meant to do, or have.. or be! So first, let’s look at what it promises. The promotional blurb on the website looks something like this
It claims to offer four main things:
- Weekly digital version of TES
- 30GB of storage space
- Planning tools/Calendar
- Library of resources
I’ll tackle each of those in the order I stumbled across them when I was first exploring.
When you first sign up, the website suggests that you set your time zone in the calendar settings. I found this at the bottom of a section that gave the opportunity to put in term dates. I put my term dates in, presuming that it would mean that they appeared on my calendar for the year. No such luck; I’m not sure why it asks for them because it doesn’t seem to affect the calendar itself at all.
I also put in the working hours of my school. We happen to start at 8.45 and finish at 3.15 – a not uncommon structure. But it seems TES can only work in whole hours. It lets you over-write the times with other minutes, but it certainly wouldn’t be easy if someone wanted to enter their weekly timetable – and almost impossible if you have a fortnightly one!
I couldn’t work out for whom this might be useful. I already use Google calendar on my phone & laptop, at home and at school, and so it wouldn’t work as a replacement for me. But it also seems that it might be rather complex for someone who has so far stuck with a paper diary.
I could only presume that it would be the way in which it connected to the rest of TES Pro that the benefits would become clear. More of that later.
Library of Resources
Michael Shaw suggested that even if storage was not your thing, that the exclusive content alone was worth the sign-up cost of TES Pro. So next, I looked at what was on offer. There are two sections of the TES Pro tool alongside the calendar, but at first I wasn’t entirely clear what the difference was.
It turns out that the difference between storage and binder is negligible. It just appears to be two different ways of organising the same content – but you can only upload to one, and you can only add to the calendar from the other!
The Teaching Practice articles in these sections are PDF versions of pages from previous issues of TES Pro. These may well be valuable to some people, although as far as I could tell, they are all articles that are freely available through a search on the website.
Thus, the ‘exclusive’ content must, I presume, come from the Teaching Compendium. At the moment this contains exactly three articles written by Mike Gershon, and some “bonus” material in the form of PDF versions of booklets that TES used to give away to recruit newspaper/magazine subscribers.
The three articles are apparently the start of a monthly series, but as it stands there are just the three on the topic of literacy across the curriculum. This was a bit of a disappointment to me as a primary teacher, but might I suppose be of more use to someone who is working on such things in a secondary school. The details suggest that more articles will appear each month, but they too looked like they’d be rather secondary-focussed. It’s notable that Mike Gershon is celebrated as a regular contributer to the TES Resource bank, but has just two resources tagged as suitable for KS1/2.
The ‘Essentials’ guides from TSL are reasonably decent. These would probably be of genuine use to an NQT or trainee teacher, containing such resources of Tom Bennett’s behaviour guide and the like.
Overall, I wasn’t sold on the idea, and certainly not for the cost of even £19.99, let alone £30 per year!
30GB Storage Space
This is a newly-increased volume, presumably to compete with the likes of DropBox or SkyDrive. That said, even at £20 a year, I suspect you could get something similar elsewhere. One theoretical advantage of the storage is the ability to save resources directly from TES. However, of course, to be sure that any given resource on TES is what you want, you would already have had to download it and open it on your own machine anyway, so this seems like a doubling-up in some senses. Arguably you can then quickly access the resources you have saved from any other computer. That makes some sense for those who might use the storage space by saving materials at home and then accessing them again at school. It also allows you to upload your own materials, which, again, you can then access anywhere.
There were a few flaws here, however. The files can be organised into folders, much like they could on your home PC. However, if like me you sometimes struggle to remember the exact filing place of a document, there doesn’t seem to be a search tool. That was fine when I had only 3 resources saved/uploaded, but if you got anywhere close to 30GB then I suspect there may be an issue.
Personally, I’ve long been happy using cloud storage through Sugarsync, Bitcasa and others, so I couldn’t quite see what was on offer here other than a weakened version of those things. But again, I wondered if maybe more would become clear when I looked at the “planning tools”
I presumed that this would be the big sell. The advertising promises that it will be time-saving, which really ought to be enough to persuade any teacher to part with their cash.
Except, I couldn’t work out quite how.
I watched the video of their planning approach and then wondered if anyone involved in the building of the website had ever planned a lesson before. The aim of TES Pro appears to be to allow you the opportunity to link some resources (your own or from TES) to some event in your online calendar. I suppose in an ideal world, if you taught the same cycle of lesson repeatedly then you could easily group your resources, attach them once and keep re-using them. But teaching is not quite like that!
I decided to test the theory. I have a powerpoint made for a maths lesson next week. This could, theoretically, have been something I found on TES so we’ll have to discount the time finding/making the resources (i.e., the actual planning of the lesson!) and just look at the next stages. To add the content to my calendar I had to:
- Upload the powerpoint to “my storage”
- Drag the powerpoint into a new “binder” (because you can’t attach a single item to a calendar event)
- Name & save the binder
- Add a new event to the calendar (Maths lesson 1.1)
- Enter the time/date of the lesson
- Drag the binder to the event
- Save the event
It probably took less than 3 minutes. But, of course, what I would normally have done is just save that same document on my laptop and wait the few seconds for it to upload to my cloud storage. Even before that, I would just have slipped it onto an email or memory stick. Of course, a similar process would be required in school to access the material. I’m really not sure where I’m supposed to have saved time.
Digital version of TES
I think that this, maybe, is the best way for TES to pursue their marketing of this whole product. Make TES Pro a bonus of subscribing to the digital version of TES and people who are interested in accessing the product digitally might see it as a saving rather than a cost. The web version of the magazine is like so many other web brochures. It works. I find it a bit fiddly (and struggled to be able to zoom enough at first), but by and large it serves its purpose.
An iOS and Android app is now available which allows you to access the magazine in a mobile-suitable format. I tried the Android version and have to say I was reasonably impressed. Finding the articles was easy and having a back catalogue could have its uses (although, again, it didn’t seem to be searchable at all). As someone who stopped reading the actual magazine some time ago, though, I’m not sure it would be enough for me – particularly as many of the articles again are freely available on the TES website in text form anyway – but it might suit others.
Newer teachers entering the profession are probably more likely to be reading on portable devices and so this may work for them rather than the large format magazine – particularly for those who commute via public transport!
If a digital subscription to TES were offered at £20 per year, with a free TES Pro subscription thrown in, then maybe it might sound enticing – a great deal to tout round the freshers fairs if nothing else! Particularly good for those who are usually wed to their iPad!
However, the currently promoted package remains something of a mystery to me. I couldn’t see where it could save me time, I found very little “exclusive” content, and what content there was didn’t really appeal to me; perhaps a trainee or newer teacher might feel otherwise?
The 30GB of storage space is certainly generous in comparison to many of the free offers available with other cloud storage sites, but offers nothing like the flexibility. (What happens if you want to download all your content at once; must it be piece-by-piece? Is the hope that users will find themselves tied in to renewing year after year to avoid losing all their work?)
It strikes me that TES Pro is an attempt to bring together some of the tools that teachers find valuable (DropBox, Google Drive, online calendars, TES resources, etc.), but in doing so a tools has emerged which is sadly a disappointment on each front compared to other freely-available options.
Maybe in the future as the content ramps up my opinion might change. But it’ll take a lot.