The Paperless Pipedream 7B1

All these things I consider to be true:

  • We need to conserve trees.  They are more important to our future than we understand.
  • Schools use way too much paper.  So do offices.  So does just about everybody.
  • My life would be much simpler without so many pieces of paper to evaluate, file, recycle or find again.
  • My home and work place would be much more peaceful without all the stress and mess that paper generates.
  • Technology makes it possible to do many tasks with much less paper.
  • The paperless classroom will happen about as soon as the paperless office.
  • Paperless classrooms won’t happen in my lifetime.

While I don’t believe that a paperless classroom is feasible, I certainly hope that “less paper” classrooms will.  While technology can make a huge difference in the amount of paper necessary, I don’t think it will make it go away.  I think of my school days when every single classroom submitted an attendance sheet every single day.  Think of the paper and tabulation time that is saved by doing this function on the computer!

In a magazine this week, I saw technology defined as “stuff that doesn’t quite work yet.”  While that was certainly a tongue-in-cheek definition, we’ve all experienced the frustration of losing something important  or not being able to complete a necessary task due to technology failure.  Especially in schools, where there is frequently either not a dedicated technology person in the building, security/controlled access is set at very tight levels and there is a whole range of very old to very new hardware and software, we are not yet at the point where we can completely count on technology to be available and functioning at the exact moment we need it.  Student’s access to technology outside of class is also all over the board and often not dependable.

How would a paperless class change teaching/learning?

When I am trying to juggle multiple sources of information at once, I find it very confusing and difficult to keep track of things if I am doing it all on a computer.  As a teacher trying to view multiple assignments, compare a student’s rough draft to final version, evaluate several steps to arrive at a final project, I think I would have a difficult time.  In some cases, it would mean adjusting how those projects are assigned and carried out, but I have a hard time envisioning it with no paper at all.  From a student’s standpoint, there are many different learning needs/styles and many different levels of organizational ability.  For some, technology could be a great help.  For others, it could be a disaster.  It certainly gives a much broader, more powerful range of learning opportunities.  How much more interesting and information-rich to Skype with a class in another country than to read about that country in an encyclopedia!  What a great experience to tour Capital Hill  and debate a bill in Virtual Congress than to study one more worksheet on how a bill becomes law!  I think technology not only allows us to teach and learn differently, it allows us to teach and learn different things in a much shorter time frame because it makes it possible to have different experiences in school than we’ve ever had before.  The challenge to attempt a paperless classroom to push the boundaries and learn new methods is certainly a useful task.  While I’m a firm believer in utilizing new techniques, I see that as a way to expand rather than limit our options.  For example, every teacher I know has stacks of worksheets and papers to grade on a regular basis.  While some don’t “count” for a grade, they still require feedback for a student to learn effectively.  Having students grade each others’ work is one option, though often the feedback isn’t very reliable.  Using a technology-based system for many of those significantly reduces the time to collect, sort, grade papers while also providing much more immediate feedback to the students.  It can also be structured to help the students who have already mastered the information/skill to move on instead of enduring so much repetition while providing alternative learning opportunities for students who are stuck.  Teachers’ time can be spent helping students who need one to one assistance, enhancing their teaching or (gasp!) spending evenings with their family.  Certainly, the whole concept of collaborative learning is enhanced.

How would you measure learning in a paperless class?

I’m not sure having paper or not makes huge changes in how we measure learning.  Typically, paper and pencil tests are one of the easiest things to transfer to a computer format.  Corrections and tabulations can be much less time consuming in traditional T/F, multiple choice, short answer tests.  Grading essay tests wouldn’t change much.  The format might look different (write a blog instead of write a paper).  Again, it broadens the opportunities to use more performance-based options.  Those options are available now (build a model, perform a skit, conduct an experiment), though not utilized by some teachers as much as they could be.  Often that is driven by school-adopted textbooks and the assignments that accompany them.

Would a paperless space make it easier or harder to build a learning network? Why?

I think a paperless space would make it easier to build a learning network.  One of the biggest changes in a less paper classroom would be the dependence on textbooks.  Right now, in many schools, the textbook drives much of the pacing, assessment, structure of learning.  I know there are many teachers who have shifted away from dependence on textbooks, but they are still the exception rather than the rule.  As long as we have the notion that the answer is in the book, a learning network is an extra effort, not a necessary part of learning.  If we eliminate the book and associated worksheets, tests, etc., a learning network becomes much more necessary and time is freed up from studying the book to researching the best nodes to include in a learning network.

There is a difference, in my opinion, between a paperless classroom and making good use of web 2.0 technology.  A creative teacher could go paperless (or at least less paper) without web 2.0.  Utilizing 2.0 doesn’t have to mean eliminating paper.  If we’re looking at best practices of using Web 2.0, my arguments would look substantially different.


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