Teachers have scarce resources. One is tempted to think money is the scarcest, but in reality, it is time. What teachers perennially want to know when faced with new initiatives and mandates is –

how to attain the balance of big impact, little investment?

The question comes from a place where compliance meets reality; teachers ask this to honor the request to try everything they are asked to try without completely abandoning what they know works.

And it is a good question. It is a good way to manage in a world where non-educators pass educational laws and those who manage you, by definition, remove themselves from the classroom.

When faced with the philosophies of blended learning and the reality of technologies which can shift teacher workload that question becomes more complex.

Automated grading decreases you work over time, but also returns feedback to students immediately

Little Investment

Big Impact

All of one type of assignment/assessment available online Improved paper workflow and assignment access
One unit available online Allow students to self-pace
Upload all work online Access to all information in one place for parents and students
Make class discussions asynchronous Allow all voices to be heard at own pace, a record of the conversation
Classroom Social Media Account Ease of information sharing, easy for parents/students to find information

One type of assignment/assessment available online

Assignments could be submitted online. Even if all you start with is to set up a submission for your assignments online you can immediately allow submissions, improve the location of papers for both students and teacher.

Assessments which can be auto-graded should be considered for online submission too. Do you have access to online assessment products which automatically grade assessments (future Link online assessments)?

To start: For assignments start with just a way to submit online. Invest in setting up the submissions, the impact is no more lost papers/uncertain turn-ins. For assessments start with formative, multiple choice. Invest in front-end loading small, low stakes assessments first. The impact is increased productivity in grading (auto-graded) and immediate feedback to students.

To improve: For assignments have the “worksheet” available and a way to submit it online. For assessments aim for all formative assessments online, both multiple choice and some open-ended as possible.

An ideal: Assignments are project/direction-based and can be submitted online. The assignments should be student-centric enough that you are not concerned about “cheating.” For assessments include all summative and formative assessments available online; rotate which version you offer students online and face-to-face as a way to monitor for consistent student performance.

One unit available online

Online Units happen in phases. Do not be shy about declaring your goal, however, do build in ways for students/parents to opt out and still participate int he learning; it is a nice safety hatch for you as well. Your investment is upfront content creation. Your impact is increased students access, possibly students experimenting with self-pacing. The best way to approach this would be with a grade level/content team. When a team can divide up their specialties to put together the initial unit of study is ideal. If you do not have that luxury, you can still work through the unit on your own, but consider rolling out one type of learning at a time.

To start: Select a low-stakes unit (high student interest, low testing emphasis) and make everything available online from reading content, group work, discussions, and formative/summative assessments. Just because it is available does not mean everyone has to do it online, so there is still room for students/parents who prefer to work face-to-face with the content.

To improve: Examine the “worksheets” and texts you use, look for opportunities to truncate, remix them and create new activities, directions, projects out of them which you can feel comfortable as putting forth as original work.

An ideal: Look for ways to build a project into the unit itself, so that the student is doing the project step by step as s/he steps through the unit.

Upload all work online

This could be as simple as making your policies, schedule, and/or classwork available online for download. This does not need to be in an LMS; this could be in Google Drive, SharePoint, a teacher webpage.

Pro Tip: from the family point-of-view the more classrooms, grade levels, schools (ideally the entire district) are in one place the better. Families have students in different classrooms, grades, buildings.

To start: Select a central place (teacher web page, Google Drive, LMS) to make items available. Start with PDFs or Google Docs of policies – district, school, classroom.

To improve: In that central place, not only post policies, but news, updates, and directions on upcoming events for students and families.

An ideal: If you are able to elegantly combine the policies/procedures, updates, and the student’s current curriculum you could provide one place for the families to go to when they start searching for something.

Asynchronous Class Discussions 

Learning Management Systems (LMS) have ideal discussion board functionality. This functionality has not evolved much over the years because it is pretty bare bones already. Your investment in setting up class discussions will pay off quickly! Discussions can happen outside the class time and walls rapidly. You responsibility dwindles to monitoring the discussion and closing it as completed. Your impact is an increased sharing of student thoughts, maybe from a student who needs more time or a less intimidating setting to participate.

To start: Try modeling reading and responding to a discussion during one class period and assign participation (graded by rubric) by the end of the week.

To improve: Assign a discussion and require students to bring to class one entry which they found particularly interesting/persuasive/etc. and have a discussion about the discussion.

An ideal: Discussions online become seamless with face-to-face discussions.

Classroom Social Media Account

Social Media is a way students like to communicate, parents can stay up to date, and you have followers who matter to you. The investment is creating an account, maintaining the account. The impact is increased professionalism and families being better informed.

To start: Create a classroom account, broadcast to your students and their families. Announce, link to activities items due etcetera.

To improve: Consider automating some items for broadcast and using social media as a way to build the school-parent relationship in what you tweet.

An ideal: Your account for school may/may not be the social media account you use to connect with other like-minded educators, but you need to identify an account for that and start connecting with other educators like you out there.

New initiatives and products in education are frequent and furious. Deciding how to invest in them is a careful balance between overcommitment and missing the boat. Continue to look for ways in which you can smartly make little investments for big impact.

Big Impact Little Investment