Ask any teacher what the most challenging aspect of their job is and the likely answer will be... TIME.
When it comes to developing curriculum that is truly engaging and self-paced, researching and putting together materials and activities, grading and responding to assignments, reaching and helping learners at their individual points of need, and handling the increasing demands of administration and QA requirements, time is the crucial element that constantly seems to spoil a teacher's opportunities to create a truly effective educational elixir.
Technology is no automatic (or automated) silver bullet when it comes to time, but there is a growing body of evidence that various applications of it can make a real difference. I've blogged in the past about the benefits of screencasting and the 'bottled' teacher (including a specific example of this in action).
In addition to screencasting, I would add SCORM and the emergence of a range of increasingly easy-to-use rapid e-learning authoring tools as major potential game changers for schools and institutions looking to make better use of teachers' time.
Let me run a quick example by you. It involves some generalisations and simple maths, but it is based on real world application and analysis.
In a particular learning program, with 100 students enrolled, ten of the units or sections involve activities built mostly around accessing and understanding theory via written material and video content. The general approach involves responding to comprehension questions, matching information, true/false, etc. This isn't the whole course (nor objective of the whole course), obviously, but these units are significant parts of the overall mix.
Let's say the following general time allocations run true to form:
- Researching and creating assignment material for each unit (plus formatting and uploading it to an LMS) takes a teacher approximately 5 hours (50 hours total).
- Checking, grading and giving a brief summative response to each assignment using the LMS admin system takes approximately 6 minutes (600 minutes/10 hours per unit assignment, or 100 hours total).
Now, starting with that general tally of 150 hours, what if we were to assume that a teacher with basic skills in MS Word and Powerpoint could be trained how to make and upload basic SCORM units using something like Articulate Storyline in about 25 hours? What sorts of time savings might we have created?
For a start, the SCORM units feature automatic feedback and grades, which are automatically sent to and categorised neatly in the LMS gradebook.
You've just saved a teacher 75 hours of checking, grading and administration in their first run with this sort of application. Even if we were to account for teachers who aren't all that tech-savvy and we get a little more generous with the Articulate training allotment (say double it to 50 hours), we're still looking at them being 50 hours in front.
What about the teacher with something more like 25 learners? That teacher's 25 hours of grading and admin for the 10 units match the 25 hours they needed to learn how to use Articulate. They've broken even this time around, but they're potentially 25 hours in front for the next batch of assignments. If they're working in a team where the content creation is shared around and multiple teachers access the same overall collection of lessons, the savings in time could be more immediate and considerable.
The learners have probably saved time in a variety of ways as well. They've received feedback after each question in real time, and by mastering that problem they may find the next one easier to tackle. Because all of the learners are busy and progressing at their own pace, the teacher is more accessible to assist and explain as problems come up for each individual learner. Teamwork and peer mentoring may also feed into the mix. They're able to go on to the next unit once they've mastered the previous one, without having to wait for a teacher to grade their work and give them permission to move on.
But getting back to teacher time, what can be done with that 25-75 hours they've gained? Here are just some of the things I can think of:
- Time to look over the results and students' answers to better analyse effectiveness of the learning and any trends in learner behaviour or apparent understanding
- Time to formulate and deliver more comprehensive and effective feedback and advice to the students who actually need it more (some need more than six minutes of our attention...)
- Time to think about and design the more collaborative/discussion/project-based/problem-solving activities to be used in class alongside the theory/content stuff
- Time to do more of the above applied collaborative learning in 'flipped' classrooms where the theory/background understanding material is moved to homework rather than classwork.
- Time to improve their digital design skills to make content more appealing and effective
- Time to better research content and advance their understanding of questioning techniques
- Time to dedicate more 1-1 attention to students who may need it outside of regular classroom hours
- Time to collaborate and reflect more with teaching peers both locally and internationally via social media tools
- Time to take a breath, enjoy their profession more and go into the next class with higher levels of energy and motivation
And, dare I say it, for the either more interaction/engagement-driven or more cash-strapped institution, there is the opportunity for teachers to spend more time in the classroom, doing what they do best with groups of learners, rather than mired at their desks correcting students' work.
I've tried to be careful in pointing out that this sort of content and learning is not the whole picture. But for many programs, it can be a significant part of it. If it can be done in ways that involve automation, it's worth exploring that.
That and the benefits more teach/er/ing time could bring.
Oh, and with SCORM and tools like Articulate Storyline, automation and reporting is only one of the options we bring to a teacher's table. There is so much more potential there.