[S06 E05] New
In this episode of All Things Co-op, Cinar, Larry and Kevin talk with John Hayes of MyCoolClass about the rise of educational platforms and online learning. MyCoolClass aims to give power back to the teachers as they navigate the online teaching world and show how cooperative principles can shake up the space. John and the ATC guys chat about what cooperative cultural values bring to education and how an education system run by teachers could be truly revolutionary.
Transcript has been edited for clarity
RICHARD WOLFF: This is Richard Wolff. Welcome to “All Things Co-op,” a podcast by Democracy at Work.
CINAR AKCIN (CO-HOST): Welcome to another episode of “All things Co-op.” With me, as always, are my co-hosts, Mr. Gustafsson and Mr. Fenster.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: That is being super formal wow!
CINAR AKCIN: Super formal! Yeah, I thought mix it up a little bit.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: We are getting less formal over time or less informal.
CINAR AKCIN: “All Things Co-op” is produced by Democracy at Work. Please go to www.democracyatwork.info to check out our various content and shows. If you like our videos, please partner with us. Make a contribution and become a subscriber. Today, we are very happy to have John Hayes on our show. John is the creator of My Cool Class, an online learning platform cooperative, owned by independent teachers and tutors. John has been involved in anti-racist activism and has shifted his focus to fighting discrimination in online education through worker ownership. Welcome to the show John.
JOHN HAYES: Hi! Thanks a lot for having me, appreciate it.
CINAR AKCIN: First of all, just to kick it off, I wanted to know where you came up with the My Cool Class idea, and why you think there is a need for online cooperative learning platforms.
JOHN HAYES: After I left the United States (I am living in Poland now), I started teaching at international schools. I started teaching online as well. It was going great. It was a career change for me, and I really loved the work. I started working for a Chinese company. Then the pandemic hit. Once the pandemic hit, as I am sure you are all aware, online education just skyrocketed. That is something that no one could possibly expect. A lot of these platforms were just dumped with money, just dumped with venture capital. So many huge investments. The company I was working for received one hundred and twenty million in funding. They sent a letter out to all the teachers, thanking us for our amazing hard work. Two weeks later, they slashed everyone's pay.
LARRY FENSTER: Yeah! ‘Thank you for your contribution. Goodbye.’
JOHN HAYES: Having an activist background, I have been familiar with cooperatives. When I was eighteen years old, I did loss prevention security at a food co-op in California. I have been familiar with it. So, after that happened, I got pissed-off. I got mad. I wanted to see what could be done to create something better. There is a lot of talk about Uber, Deliveroo, Doordash, and other platform work. Online teachers have been completely left out of this conversation. There are hundreds of thousands of us, if not more, all over the world. With that said, I reached out to a couple colleagues of mine, couple other teachers. My girlfriend is a graphic designer and web designer. I kind of had her help me out a lot because I could not draw a stick figure if I wanted to. It started off with just three of us and we just started building the idea and spamming Facebook and the Internet with this idea. Started up a mailing list and within a few months we had about two thousand teachers signup on our mailing list. Myself, new to organizing cooperatives, I went and sought out different resources: where should we incorporate?; where should we do this? We found an amazing advisor, Sean Wellins, in the UK (United Kingdom). He helped us set up all of our documents and get filed and registered in the UK. To date now, we have just shy of three hundred teachers. We are located all over the world in over forty or fifty different countries right now, and we have about twenty worker members.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: I am curious what the conception is. You have seen there is an explosion of online learning even through public schools and state-funded schools. Private schools are doing the same thing. Before, there was kind of the explosion of the Khan Academy, Coursera, Online Learning, and Code Academy, in particular. What is your vision? How do you see yourself differentiating it? Is it the fact that it is a sort of cooperative that provides different values? Do you have a different kind of niche? What is the idea?
JOHN HAYES: Our Idea. We are not reinventing the wheel. We are just taking the best parts of it and putting it together with the cooperative foundation behind it. The reality is that most teachers (well I mean most people in general) do not know what a co-op is. It is hard to explain to a common person within a couple of paragraphs without getting into a whole economic discussion and getting eventually political. That has been a real big challenge. As far as My Cool Class is concerned, we have two business models. The first one is a teacher marketplace. Teachers can come on; they set their own price; and they create their own courses or their own lesson packages. They can teach English, Spanish, math, calculus. They can teach calculus in Spanish or in French. We do not have any limitations on what you can teach. Secondly, we are probably going to be launching in the next week or two, a course marketplace. This is going to be different because instead of a student finding a teacher based on the subject, they will be finding a course that they are interested in. Again, this is going to be for all ages and all skills, subjects, and topics. If you wanted to teach basket weaving, you could have a basket weaving course or how to draw superheroes, debate, or how to start a cooperative. You can really offer anything you want on there. That is going to be a unique feature. As far as in the capitalist world of things, there are not very many companies doing that and they are very limited in where they operate or who they allow on their platform. Our competition has been around called Out School. They have been around since 2015 and they just recently became a unicorn. They started off in San Francisco. Again, they only hire Native English-speaking teachers or teachers that not only are US, UK, or Australian citizens, but they also have to reside there. Someone like me, I could not even teach because I live in Poland. I do not live in the United States. Again, their market is really focused on the United States. We are based in the UK. Our primary focus is going to be mostly Europe. Those are the two main models. Since the Chinese ESL (English as a Second Language) industry collapsed last year, after China did their whole crackdown on the tech industry, it really hurt online education, which is ESL, English teaching online. That was huge. China was the biggest market for it. After that happened, tens of thousands of teachers lost their jobs almost overnight. Some of them contacted their students from these platforms. They wanted to continue teaching privately. My Cool Class is able to facilitate teachers to bring on their own students as well onto My Cool Class.
LARRY FENSTER: I was wondering, still focusing on the students, are you familiar with, in the United States there is a couple of places: Edx, Coursera. They are called, let me get the name, MOOCs. They are Massively Organized Online Courses. Usually, you can join these things for free. You can even listen to their classes. They usually highlight top academic teachers that are already very popular, maybe at Stanford, top universities. Then you can take a course and you can get a certificate if you pay. So, you take the course, and they have a final test and there is more. There is no time limit if you do not want a certificate but there is weekly homework and things that you submit. Who the hell knows who grades them, but you have to do it. You have to take a test. If it is an eight-week course, you have to take it in the ninth week. You pay a hundred bucks and you get a certificate from some third-party organization. I do not know what the value of it is. You pay a hundred bucks, you get a certificate, and you can get maybe five or six of these if you want to get a coding degree. If you want to get into coding, you have something that says: “Hey I took these eight courses. I got these certificates from these top teachers at Johns Hopkins and Stanford.” Okay, it is not a degree, but that is all I get for it. So, what is the marketplace as far as your student goals go and what are they looking for? Are they looking for degrees? What is the mindset of this?
JOHN HAYES: The mindset behind My Cool Class. First off, all our classes are live. You will have a live instructor. So, there aren't courses because a lot of teachers are trying to do that for extra income. You can create a course once, put up on the marketplace, and it takes care of itself and then that is just extra income you get at the end of the month from it. All our classes are live. We have a strong focus on learning languages. Right now, that is the strong focus and of course, as we grow, that might splinter off into other directions, but it is really about learning about what people care about; what they want to learn; their own personal goals. If you want to learn how to play the guitar, you can find an awesome guitar teacher here. I am an old punk rocker. I am even thinking about putting together a course on the history of Rock and Roll. We want to have fun things as well as learning languages. Outside of the US, just about every country in the world teaches English as a second language. In a lot of countries (I live in Poland), teach a lot of the grammar and spelling. They can read, write and whatnot. When they get into a conversation, they freeze up. There is not a lot of focus on speaking English in many countries. Plenty of students want to pass high school or get a language degree. They want that extra speaking practice. That would be a big reason why students would come over and take live online classes, whether it is a one-on-one or in a group scenario.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: How do you verify? Larry's got a Ph.D., and he is a pretty smart dude, and he knows a lot about a lot of different things. Could he be a teacher? What do you need? Do you have to have a teaching degree? How does that work?
CINAR AKCIN: Can I add to that John? How do you vet the teachers? First, what are their backgrounds in general? I am curious about that. Also, how do you monitor how the education process is going, the content that is being provided to the students?
JOHN HAYES: I will try to hit both of those. First off, what you need to do, to be able to teach on My Cool Class, is be qualified to teach what it is you want to teach. We have that vague for a reason. There are so many platforms that have these set-in stone rules but there are so many exceptions to those rules. Again, if you if you are offering a guitar class, if you have been playing guitar for twenty years, as I have, I do not need a guitar teaching certificate. If I am a good teacher and I play the guitar and I can teach it, well then, that would constitute as being qualified. With that, when a teacher does apply, they need to send in an intro video to show that they can stand in front of the camera and whatnot. They do need to send in a CV with any experience or degrees and certificates. We do it on a case-by-case basis because we do not want to turn people down just for small little technicalities. For example, if you are a native Spanish speaker but you have been teaching English for fifteen years, you have a TEFL certificate, which is Teaching English as a Foreign Language, we are not going to require that person to have a Spanish teaching certificate. Does that make sense? It is kind of irrelevant if you have already been teaching English, you know how to teach English, and you are a native Spanish speaker. You can teach Spanish. We are not going to have these really strict rules. If you have a Masters in Linguistics, we are not going to ask you for a TEFL certificate, which anyone can get done in two to three weeks. That is what we are getting at with qualified, and we do take it on a case-by-case basis. As far as, after they join, there is a probationary period. We have a fifty-teaching-hour probationary period. That pretty much shows that they know what is going on. They have been participating, they are getting students. That also allows room in case we do have issues with a teacher if they do not meet standards. If they say, “Oh! I am an English teacher,” and then they start posting up especially misspelled words and stuff, maybe, we will take a look at this. We have not really had that problem much at all with our group. Again, we want people to share what they love, their passions, and their skills.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: Part of this season of ours, the collection that we are talking about right now, is to kind of envisioning a more cooperative future. An online education community or even a platform is not necessarily new. The new aspect of My Cool Class is the cooperative element of it. I am wondering philosophically, theoretically, dare I say ideologically, I am wondering (kind of how you see the difference, not necessarily like, we could talk nuts and bolts about teacher qualification and stuff like that) why a cooperative? What is it that you see as a problem in education that this venture is going to fix, or that it at least presents the possibility that if brought fully into fruition would be a genuine kind of change in the way that we teach and learn and become active members of our society.
JOHN HAYES: Sure, unless you are talking about Harvard or Yale or whatnot, most students care about their teacher and their education. They do not care about the school’s name. Especially, when it comes to an online learning platform, they do not care if it is Cambly or Prepply or Italki or Amazing Taco. They want a good teacher, period. Students will follow their teachers where they go. That is a big selling point with My Cool Class. Let me rewind a little bit. The online education industry was expected to hit four hundred and fifty billion by 2025, and that was an estimate given before the pandemic. This is not a niche industry. This is huge. This is really big. On the other platforms out there, very few people make the rules. They take high commission fees. Some platforms take money from teachers if you cancel too early. The company I used to be with, they actually asked for a picture of a teacher in the hospital to prove their spleen erupted. That was a Chinese company, but still, it is insane. If you do not reply back to a student within two hours, they might hide your profile. It is just ridiculous. A lot of the platforms that have similar models to My Google Class, pay according to how many classes you teach per month. One of the biggest platforms out there, Prepply, boasts of having over eighty or a hundred thousand teachers. Very large company. They are also backed by Hoxton Ventures who is behind Deliveroo, who launched Deliveroo in the UK. You can see where their intentions are, but what they do is they start off charging a thirty-three per cent commission for teachers on the platform. The more you teach, the less that commission drops, and it goes down to I believe eighteen or nineteen per cent. The thing is there are so many tutors on there. They do have algorithms. No one knows how these algorithms work. I have met very few teachers that are fully booked and paying that lower percentage of commission. These platforms work that way. They deliberately over saturate the platforms, and have algorithms work to spread students out thin. The company is making more and more profit and teachers’ wages are going down. These platforms put teachers in direct competition. If you were, say British, but you lived in maybe Malaysia or Burma or a low-income country, they can go on these platforms and charge three dollars an hour. What about the teachers that are living in the States or elsewhere that want to at least be earning fifteen to twenty-five? They are getting completely undercut by this. At My Cool Class, we took a look at all of these issues affecting online teachers. We worked them all out. We meticulously worked out each and every problem. Soon enough, all of our teachers are actually going to be voting on the minimum marketplace price. There isn’t an undercutting of the market. With the way these companies are, just making so much money, My Cool Class would love to be able to give that back to all our teachers and get to the point where we give that back. One unique thing that My Cool Class is doing (and I have not heard of any other platform or freelance job that does this), we are actually giving freelance teachers paid time off that is accumulated on their commission that they pay in the co-op. They can withdraw on it for a rainy day. If you get sick, or you need to cancel a week full of classes, that could be twenty-five per cent less of the income you are making that month. If you get sick that could mean the difference of eating peanut butter sandwiches or paying rent for the next week. We really wanted to do that. We would like to be able to offer continuous education and training to all our teachers as well. We want them to be able to invest into My Cool Class as well. When we look at our competition that have very similar business models, they started off with maybe a million in venture capital and now they are unicorns five, six years later. As far as there being an industry with money and power, ESL is it. I think that My Cool Class will be an amazing opportunity for teachers to take that power back, as well as have a voice together to have a positive effect on the industry. We are not expecting to be David beating Goliath here, but if My Cool Class can cause enough of a dent in the industry so that other platforms say, ‘Hmm maybe I should not be screwing over all these teachers so bad or else they are going to go over here,’ I am happy. That would be great.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: Providing a genuine alternative. That is legit.
LARRY FENSTER: Thank you guys. So, I want to riff off. You mentioned that there is going to be a vote in the near future about the vacation thing. I have a question about voting rights and power. It was not clear to me from some of the things I read, which I am sure is because I did not read enough. How does that work? Do you as a teacher get accepted? Do you have voting rights just because you are a teacher? Do you need to become an investor to get a vote? The investor aspect, you buy in it, I guess shares or something. Does the share price change? Is voting power based on one person-one vote, for among shareholders or is it based on the number of shares or the value of your shares?
JOHN HAYES: Sure, I will break that down. We have three classes of membership. We have teachers who are user-members. They use the platform to conduct their teaching business. Then we have worker-members. They work for the cooperative. This would be design, tech, anyone else. They would be worker-members. Then, we have investor-members. We just did a rule change a few months ago, to allow the investor class in membership. With teachers, how it works is, after they apply, we do charge an onboarding fee. We are not backed with anything. I started this from my apartment in Warsaw, Poland. I do not make a lot of money. I left California for a reason. They have to pay an on-boarding fee. The onboarding fee is between five pounds and twenty-five pounds. Roughly, seven and thirty dollars, and that is based on the country they live in. This allows teachers in low-income countries to be able to buy in and become a member, as well as those from higher income countries. The US, the UK, those would be twenty-five pounds. We have had a few teachers from Palestine, a couple from Libya. I really do have teachers from all over the world. It is pretty cool. Then again, we have a fifty-hour probationary period before they become a full member with voting rights. Some teachers have been able to do that in a month because they bring their own students. They are just teaching, teaching, teaching, and they become a member right away. Some teachers are not being active, or they are not really, I mean that is just life. Some are not being active or bringing on their own students or are waiting so we can drive more traffic to the platform. They are just kind of sitting and waiting at that point. Of course, only full members can vote. The majority of worker-members started from the very beginning with us, so they are full members. We have been around for about a year. Then the investor-members, and this is brand new, and I will discuss community shares in just a moment, because it is kind of new in the US. Then investor-members: again, everyone gets one vote, regardless of shareholding. It is one member-one vote. The investor-members collectively cannot take up more than ten percent of the total vote, effectively leaving ninety percent of the control with the teachers and then the handful of workers. We are one member-one vote. Going back to the teachers and the share value, regardless, if they paid a five-pound onboarding fee or a twenty-five-pound onboarding fee, once they obtain full membership, they are granted a one pound nominal share. That is how we are able to balance it out; to be international; to allow different people from different economies to join. That is how it works out. What we have recently done since the conflict in Ukraine (the attack on Ukraine) is, we started waiving the onboarding fee for Ukrainian teachers. We have already added about ten Ukrainian teachers just from the past couple months.
CINAR AKCIN: I am curious about how active the teachers and the members are. How active are they in participating and in managing the platform, and voting and participating on different aspects of it? I asked this question because it sounds like a lot of them might not know the concept of a worker co-op, that ownership model. What attracted them to this platform, for them to want to join it, then also, really, participate in managing a platform, managing a company at the end of the day as a worker-member?
JOHN HAYES: The worker-members, we are really taking care of all the business aspect of it, the tech aspect, management, classes, all of that. That is one of the benefits to teachers. Once we get up and going and we are feeding ourselves, teachers really can focus on teaching. They do not need to worry about scheduling, invoicing, billing as My Cool Class takes care of all of that. As I mentioned earlier, and what you just said, a lot of people in general do not understand what a co-op is, or they have a very vague concept of it. They do not actually grasp it. That has been by far the toughest challenge. We were incorporated, we registered in the UK in April of last year. We opened for business in July and so we are almost a year of trading now. We are growing very slowly. That is predominantly because it is very difficult to get a lot of our teachers to be cheerleaders for us because they are not quite sure of how it all works. One thing that teachers do have to do within the first thirty days after joining My Cool Class is cooperative training. I try to simplify it so a common person could at least start wrapping their head around a co-op and what it is and how it works. We have a combination of different videos from YouTube, as well as some short texts. I wrote a lot of things because I wanted to make it as simple and as clear in plain language as possible. Again, the state of online teaching, this is where it also is getting a little difficult, online teaching is a very exploitative industry. It has been for quite some time. A lot of teachers are skeptical of everyone and everything co-op, not a co-op, people in general, and clients. There is just a lot of skepticism all over the place. Maybe around seventy-five of our teachers are very active. They do attend our monthly meetups. We actually had one last night. We had about twenty or so that were able to attend. Then we post our replays. We have our own private social media platform, which is just for members and we have groups. We are really trying to do a lot here but the participation level is relatively low now. A lot of teachers have the perception that: “All right, I am willing to give this a chance. Here is twenty-five pounds. Let me see what happens.” They think that they can kick back and really not do nothing at that point. We are really pushing: “No, no, this is not like you go to a store, you buy a hamburger for ten bucks and then that is it.” We need teachers to still go out and promote and share about us and really help us grow because the past year, most of our capital has come in from those onboarding fees and that is how we have been able to sustain our activities. We are not profitable. The eighteen-member or the eighteen workers are working seven days a week. We could easily double our size, and all have eight-hour a day jobs. I do not remember the last time I have had a day off in the past year and a half. We are really struggling at that point. What we have done is, just a couple weeks ago, we launched a community shares offer. I heard a lot about this in the UK, but I have not found too much of it in the US, with maybe the exception of a couple housing cooperatives. Community shares are non-transferable chips. It works lot like a bank account so to speak. What we are offering investors is a five percent return annually after year one on their investment. They can withdraw on it as of year three, as early as year three. It is very favorable for UK investors because they will get up to a fifty per cent tax relief on their investment. We are really trying to get the UK mostly to hear about our share offer just because when you invest five thousand, you are immediately getting half of that back through your taxes. It is very favorable. Again, anyone in the world can also invest in My Cool Class and then become an investor member for a hundred pounds. A hundred pounds is the minimum share subscription you can get. So, those cannot be traded. They cannot be sold otherwise. So, it works almost just like a bank account.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: But it is a way for you to get sort of money and to know that it is going to be there for a while, and that it might get withdrawn, but it is not going to be subjected to trading and any kind of speculation or any sort of nonsensical price inflation or deflation.
JOHN HAYES: Exactly. I do not have the numbers right in front of me. Since the past ten years in the UK, there has been millions and millions raised by cooperative societies through community shares and ninety-two per cent of them are still trading. Community shares really do help because My Cool Class, our operating cost is really low. That is the nice thing about being a platform because we can scale really large and our expenses do not go up that much. The two things that My Cool Class needs to be able to be successful is working capital because I do not know how many people are crazy enough to work sixteen hours a day for a year, unpaid, but we are apparently. Yeah, we are doing it and we are tired, we are burned out, and we need to hire professionals to take on certain roles. We need to hire an experienced marketing director. We need to hire a tech support team, so I do not have to sometimes wake up at three o'clock in the morning just because there is a little glitch somewhere and I am not an IT professional. I know WordPress pretty well, but that is not my job. Most of us are wearing between five to ten hats each right now. That is really the purpose for the share offer. Our business works. We have our platform. Everything in the car works. We just do not have gasoline. That is really where we are at. So, we want to push the share offer, not just to people that care about education, but co-ops in general. I recall a few weeks ago, on your show, you were talking about how (I think it was you Kevin) there needs to be kind of that poster boy that people can look at and say: “Oh! Wow! They did it, we can do it too. This is how it works. It is not a pipe dream. This is not utopia. Let us use them as an example.” I am very confident that My Cool Class can and will be that example, but we need the capital to get going. On our website, we have a whole business plan, we are one hundred per cent transparent. We were talking with our advisor about how much stuff do we want to put on publicly and what do we want to keep like…no, let us put our whole competitor analysis up there I don't even care. We just really are looking for a lot of support from the cooperative movement, from teachers, from educators, and across the board.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: Well, there is your call to action. Anybody listening, who is a teacher, money burning a hole in their pockets, and you can do something.
LARRY FENSTER: I have a question, but I also want to give you the opportunity to say: “Go to this website to make a contribution or buy some shares.” Then I would ask a question. So why don't you tell us where people should go so that they can go ahead.
JOHN HAYES: MyCoolClass.Com. Very simple.
LARRY FENSTER: Okay good, I wanted to give you that chance for sure. The question I had was (getting back to the difficulty you are having with worker participation and member participation in the co-op idea or just participation in decision making) about the decision about how to make vacation pay possible; how much you have to teach before you get a vacation; and how much vacation. That seems like it would be pretty motivating for people that are worker- members, teacher-members. Are there other aspects of decision-making that they might get involved in at some point? I am just thinking there might be issues of too many people teaching the same thing. How do you deal with that so that you limit competition and make sure that the people are not forced to reduce their fees because somebody is a star or something like that. That might be something that you could vote on. That could be democratically decided but other issues too. It seems like there ought to be more decision-making issues that affect teachers. That would be a way to increase their involvement and interest in the power that they have, which they may not recognize: that power is a good thing; that the vote is a good thing; and that is the cooperative idea.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: I wonder how they do that. You talked about your own social media thing, which is a way of having discussion and kind of getting together and stuff like that. What are the nuts and bolts? How do you vote? That is a form of participation in terms of discussing, but how do you have monthly general assemblies or quarterly? How does it work?
JOHN HAYES: We have monthly meetups just because we are still so new and growing. Most of the teachers that have stood up and said, “Hey I want to help, what can I do?”, they end up becoming a worker-member and joining with us right now. It is really hard because there is so much skepticism just due to the climate there. A lot of teachers are very working class. They are living paycheck to paycheck. Many teachers are currently teaching on two, three, four, even five other platforms and they are all over the place. This is where the pull and tug is. We want more participation. We actually had a vote on the minimum marketplace price a few months ago, and we were smaller, but less than ten percent of the teachers actually took part in it. This is where our battle is. We are at the point where we need to show that we can do this. At that point it would give teachers the confidence in My Cool Class and the cooperative principle. People expect, I am the worker, I expect X from the company, so it is really hard to still get people to wrap their mind around: “Hey! This is my business too.” So, we really try to drill on that. We do have lots of cooperative training and we have our first AGM (Annual General Meeting) in October. We are starting to prepare for that as well. A lot of the decisions are being made between the workers because we are meeting with each other every day, about twenty of us. We are very tight and so, most of the decision-making is being made amongst the workers right now. Then as teacher participation increases, well absolutely, that will be opened-up. Again, we do not have the participation level so high right now, and this has been a battle. We know what we need to do and ultimately raising capital to start marketing that is going to be the kicker that is going to get all the teachers jumping up and down and take that active role participating.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: It takes longer than a year to change someone's class consciousness as well. We will give you a break on the fact that it is pretty recent.
LARRY FENSTER: It sounds like so many teachers are spread out among, I mean, they may not be earning enough off of My Cool Class alone. So, the more you can get them to earn more on your platform, the more likely they are going to be invested in spending time and realize the power of their vote. If they are all spread out all over, first, they do not have any time. They are preparing dozens of classes or maybe some can, but it still takes time. Then it is not as big a benefit if they are not. The more they get invested in terms of the number of classes that they are offering on your platform, the more they are going to get invested in the power of their vote. It is like catch twenty-two. You got to get right.
JOHN HAYES: To get back to what you were saying about over saturating on one subject or another, our goal is to reach a thousand teachers and take a look at what we have at that point. A thousand teachers are nothing. Compared to any other platform, it is still very small, and we will probably temporarily put a moratorium on applications, see where we are at, and then we will say: “Okay, we are only accepting French teachers or Spanish teachers or whatnot because we have way too many English teachers.” Those are things we want to do, and we do need that member participation. We are hesitant on putting too many rules. We want to deal with them as we come to see what is necessary and what is not necessary. We really are demanding that teacher participation. So, we have our own social media platform and that is completely seperate from our learning platforms. This is private. Teachers can put in polls openly. There is no approval process or anything like that.
CINAR AKCIN: One question you touched upon, and you said you wanted a thousand teachers on the platform. What do you envision for My Cool Class going forward? What is your vision of success in addition to that? Also, a little bit more on the speculative side, how do you think the teacher ownership on this platform is going to change? One, the content that is delivered in the future, and it is a little bit speculative to go into this kind of envisioning of what a cooperative society would look like, the content and way teachers interact with students. What do you think, how would that change, or how that would improve the engagement between teacher and student?
JOHN HAYES: The teachers that are attracted to the cooperative model, or at least spend five minutes looking at the website to try to understand it, either love it or are totally not interested in it. We are attracting very amazing teachers around the world. One thing to remember is My Cool Class is a platform cooperative of independent teachers. So, there are going to be various different types of teachers there. As far as what you can teach on the platform, we do not allow classes such as ‘get rich quick’ or ‘how to become a stock-broker.’ Obviously, things that are against cooperative principles: cannot teach how to make guns, drugs, or Bible study classes. Short of that, it is really open and the part of the cooperative that is going to be the biggest is the course marketplace. Therefore, it is going to be hard for competition just because each teacher does truly offer something unique. It is not like we have a course book handed out to a thousand teachers and say, ‘hey teach it by the way’ and then say some teachers are doing great, some teachers are doing poor. Teachers are completely independent. Again, if you were to offer a basket weaving class in Croatian, we cannot guarantee you are going to get students. That is just the reality of it. Again, at the cooperative, we want to help you and say ‘hey these classes are doing well, these classes aren't doing so well. Maybe, can shift your focus over here.’ The cooperative wants to pay for outside trainers to come in so we can professionally give our teachers ongoing education, to help them be independent but within a cooperative. So many teachers are going independent right now, but it is not helping the state of affairs of online education as a whole. There is no mass movement or a group to counter this. We are trying to pretty much collect all of the independent teachers, combine them in one. Now we have an army to actually put something up against this beast that we are facing.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: Well, in some ways that beast needs to be slayed.
LARRY FENSTER: You are well on the way to doing so.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: Thanks! This is very interesting. My brother is a principal at an elementary school. So, I hear a lot of, in some ways the sort of war stories, of traditional kind of what I might call like early 20th century style education: put everybody in a room and force them to listen to people talk. Obviously, there has been changes and there are different pedagogical approaches, but this is in many ways the future. I think it is the future both in terms of the use of technology, the establishment of a platform, and also, hopefully, the cooperative principles. It has been great to talk to you John. I am really looking forward to year two being one of growth.
LARRY FENSTER: Good luck. We will check back with you, I hope, and see how it is going. Let us keep in touch for sure.
JOHN HAYES: Absolutely. Thanks a lot for having me. Again, MyCoolClass.com. Check it out and you guys can also geek out on our rules and our governance and all that stuff. It is all up there.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: So, teachers if you are an independent teacher, check out My Cool Class. If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, check out My Cool Class. If you are a co-op nerd, check out My Cool Class.
LARRY FENSTER: Check out Patreon and “All Things Co-op” at Democracy at Work and make that contribution, become a member or you know check out the cool swag.
KEVIN GUSTAFSON: Check out the Democracy at Work T-shirt. Thanks a lot everyone. Thanks John. I would love to see you grow. Take care.
JOHN HAYES: Thanks a lot everyone.
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Transcript by Asma Siddiqi
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About our guest: John Hayes is the creator of MyCoolClass, an online learning platform cooperative owned by independent teachers and tutors. John has been involved in antiracist activism for 20 years but has shifted his focus to fighting discrimination in online education through worker ownership. Learn more about MyCoolClass at https://www.mycoolclass.com
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