Thursday, October 24, 2013

Paperless or Less paper?

Education today is evolving with the onset of innovative learning tools like the interactive whiteboard, mobile devices, and online learning. 21st century education pedagogy is deepening our curriculum, how we teach and how our students learn. Education is changing at a rapid pace looking less like traditional classrooms looked just 10 years ago. We are moving away from pen and paper writing, ongoing classroom testing, and delivering information to our students. Today's learning includes implementing assessments in all areas, offering critical thinking opportunities, evaluation and incorporating project based learning in the classrooms where our students create their own learning experience. One area where this is becoming more evident is the idea of a paperless classroom.

A paperless classroom is just that... paperless. It is the integration of technology in the classroom that eliminates all purposes of paper. As a result, it removes any issues of students having supplies, clutter, and losing their work. Instead, a classroom is cloud based and helps students become more organized. Students can access their lessons, homework, grades and even textbooks solely through the internet or mobile device from anywhere and anytime. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. Or is there?

The idea of a paperless classroom promotes not just a reduction of paper and other physical resources, but rather a more efficient workflow. Classroom workflow includes quicker communication and feedback, improved access to learning materials, seamless digital portfolios, and a more connected student-teacher and peer to peer environment. Using apps like Google Drive, DropBox, and Evernote to keep organized, create, annotate and share documentation, allow students and teachers to create a workflow and organization that works for them. In addition, there are several complete classroom workflow products available like eBackpack and Showbie that give you and all-in-one options. As an added benefit, think about how much money your school would save on printing costs! Even save a tree or two!

However, some things might seem more natural with a paper and pencil. For example, reviewing writing samples or rough drafts, whether its for a peer review or for teacher evaluation, no one can refute the strength of the infamous “red pen.” Sometimes annotation tools are a little bit awkward to use and may not have the same effect. Writing out complicated math problems on an 8 1/2X11 piece of paper may just make more sense to some students because there is more real estate available than on a tablet. Especially, in a subject where showing your work is essential to success. You also need to consider the fact that being totally paperless may not be the right thing for every one of your students. Some students may be too distracted by a stylus or their finger and would just doodle when using a note-taking tool instead of actually taking notes. Some of our students already have challenges taking on everyday classroom activities so it can be confusing to add on the technological literacies of an online or paperless classroom.

So you need to ask yourself whether you want to go fully paperless or just streamline some aspects of your classroom workflow to use less paper. Don’t we all try to use less paper in our daily lives? We use online banking systems, key card and business card readers on our phones, keeping our grocery lists and address books online. Sometimes we don’t even remember how much clutter we created before having our mobile devices “carry” the information for us. But don’t you dare take away my to do list notepad. It’s just never going to happen. I NEED that legal pad and pencil! I need to go through the motions of making a list and crossing tasks off !!! We should be able to give our students opportunities to be as productive as we crave to be. This is part of educating our students for adulthood and professionalism. If our students prefer teacher notes or taking online quizzes, and the resources are available, let them! If they can’t get a handle the math problem unless there is a pencil, eraser and notebook in their hand, then they should be able to. It’s another balancing act and a lifelong skill we want our children to experience in this 21st century environment.