Free up two hours of planning time each week.

How would education be different if every teacher in the country had a personal assistant? Studies by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that 78% of teachers believe (2014) they need more planning time to properly implement the Common Core State Standards, and that, on average, teachers work 53 hours per week (2012). Of those hours, roughly 5 are spent grading, according to a 2013 TALIS study.

In my last entry, I discussed the difference between technology integration that makes traditional ways of educating more efficient vs. that which uses technology to redefine the goals and methods of education. While at heart I see myself as a progressive educator, I realize that teachers can only reach for higher objectives if they can reduce the time spent fulfilling responsibilities related to traditional education – because let’s face it, the expectation that teachers fulfill traditional roles (such as writing report cards and grading quizzes) are not going away any time soon.

Teacher Proof

I came dangerously close to enrolling in a masters program at one of the most prestigious education schools in the country, when a meeting with my advisor caused me to change course last-minute. I had already attended the student welcome session where professors presented the projects they were working on: one was a robot ‘buddy’ that encouraged students while they worked; another was a study on how the proximity of a robot teacher affected how much students remembered of the robot lecture.

I started to realize that the institution had an unspoken assumption that the problem with education was teachers – if they could just replace us with robots, kids could start reaching their true potential. When my advisor told me that Khan Academy was “useless” because it didn’t make education more creative or encourage higher-order thinking, I realized that despite her research credentials, this professor (and the institution as a whole) was too separated from life in the classroom to help me explore my passion: supporting teachers in creating the classroom experience that will best serve their students.

Fortunately, I made a last-minute change to an Instructional Technology program that focused on developing tech-enhanced curricula and supporting human teachers in integrating technology.

The Tool is not the Carpenter

I think these incredibly bright and effective researchers fell victim to a fallacy that is common in the education world: confusing a tool with a strategy. I would expect that few architects would think that hammers should be forbidden from construction sites because they don’t reduce the environmental footprint of a building or increase the amount of natural light.

Yet we see the same mindset in educational settings all the time – education professionals refer to textbooks as ‘the curriculum,’ (a tool without a strategy) and researchers tout discoveries of adolescent psychology for their learning potential (a strategy without a tool). Ultimately, teachers are the ones who have to make the connection: knowing what we know about how children learn, what tools can we use to create an ideal learning environment?

Time is Power

I believe that the best way we can enrich students’ learning experience is to give teachers the time to think deeply about their practice – when we create efficiencies in how teachers use their planning time, they can use the added time to make lessons more interactive and creative, and ultimately students will benefit.

I generally don’t believe in basing professional development around a single digital tool because there are too many tools out there, and they become outdated too quickly.  Google Forms is an exception (especially when combined with Flubaroo) because it is versatile, easy to use, and automates something almost every teacher does on a regular basis.

The video series below (2 videos, about 10 min each) shows how to create online quizzes with Google Forms and to grade them using Flubaroo. There are plenty of tools out there for creating online quizzes, but I recommend these for several reasons:

  • They’re both free
  • Integrate easily with other Google Apps for Education
  • Easy to learn
  • Google constantly updates and improves its tools
  • Creates data visualizations to help teachers better interpret students results

Based on the average of 5 hours per week of grading, I would estimate that about 2-3 of those five hours could be eliminated through automated grading (Flubaroo cannot grade papers – yet). Even if you completely ignore the visualization tools and their potential to make your quizzes into formative assessments, simply saving two hours of grading per person per week should grant you or your staff some valuable innovation time.

Continue the Conversation

Is it worth making traditional education methods more efficient, or should we be focusing solely on 21st century skills? Have you tried Google Forms and/or Flubaroo? Share your thoughts in a comment!

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