The Almost Paperless Classroom

Earlier this semester, I did an interview with WM’s Director of Academic Information Services about my “paperless” classroom. I explained how I was avoiding doing any printing or copying but offering documents online and reframing activities to take advantage of the web.

A quick example: I play the TPACK game with my students, putting together content, technology, and pedagogy to create ideas for using technology in instruction. Normally, it is a very paper heavy activity as I print out cards and lesson sheets. This semester, as I prepared for that class, I considered digital ways to present it. I ended up using an online flash card site to create the game. The flash cards had a pedagogy on one side and a content area on the other and then students were challenged to come up with their own ideas. I skipped the paper recording sheet, opting instead to have them use a wiki page. It was fortunate that I had done this…the night of the class I was sick so we met in Elluminate instead and having the online resources made it much easier to stick with the plan!

But, last night, the paperless dream came to an end. We were using Scratch and while I talked the students through an introduction, I wanted them to be able to explore on their own. But I also knew that some would appreciate some written handouts to follow along with and Scratch has these great program cards where you learn a bit of code at a time. I considered just having them access the cards online…but trying to navigate between the card and the Scratch window on the laptop is often difficult because there just isn’t enough real estate on the screen. So, I printed…ten copies of three pages which I handed out a bit ruefully.

There’s a lesson here, though, about practicing zero tolerance: it just doesn’t work. My students would have been frustrated if, in order to keep up with my paperless dream, I did not provide them with what they needed to be able to learn. In this case, it was a piece of paper. They agreed with me that they preferred to have a paper guide along side their laptop rather than having both items on the screen. So, it was a pedagogical decision and one that I stand by.

Next week, we meet in Second Life so we will be both paperless and classroomless so maybe that makes up for my 30 pieces of paper.

4 thoughts on “The Almost Paperless Classroom

  1. Thanks for the paper guide in class this week. It really helped me get on board with Scratch.

    See you in Second Life soon.

  2. I serve on the “Greening the SOE” Committee (along with Steve Coxon and Mark Hofer). We recently held focus groups with faculty, students, and staff to gather their input about how to work, teach, and learn sustainably in the new building. As you might imagine, paper use was a major area of concern. Faculty and students have already started to make a transition to using less paper. One area where this is still difficult relates to professional development and the work of various centers in conducting conferences. When teachers register for a conference, they often expect to get printed handouts; in a conference we ran two weeks ago, one of the common negative comments on the evaluation forms concerned the lack of handouts from certain presenters. I think that the paperless classroom is a worthy goal, but the changes will take place more slowly in some contexts than in others.

  3. In the Project HOPE office here at W&M we are planning for our annual conference and this year we have decided to put all of the resources and handouts from presenters on a flash drive. Each attendee will then receive the flash drive when they check-in at registration and will instantly have a digital copy of all handouts. I am sure that there will be some that will go right home or back to their school divisions and print everything out…they just like to have the paper and touch the handouts. However, I think many will be appreciative of not having to lug all of that paper around and back to their respective schools. I agree that paperless is a worthy goal and one that can be accomplished over time. I just think that it will take some longer than others to make that switch!

  4. Great idea on the TPACK game, Karen. It goes to show you that it really takes some creativity how to do things a little differently. This goes to Kim’s comment above re: the need for PD.

    In a faculty focus group recently the very issue you discuss came up. One faculty member argued that there are times when you might need a piece of paper (or three) to assist the learning process. My initial instinct was to bristle a little at this. But then I realized he had a really good point. In educational settings, sustainability may need to take a back seat to student learning. This doesn’t mean that we can’t strive for a more paperless (smile) classroom, but I think it does suggest that we need to go digital mindfully. It should be an interesting and ongoing dialogue to try to find that balance between sustainability and what we need to provide for our students. Thanks for thoughtful post.

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