Going Paperless: Packing for the Trip

This is the first in a series of articles discussing the process of making the transition from a traditional to a more paperless classroom.

Making the decision to go paperless can be a difficult one. Depending on how many years a teacher has taught a subject, they may have mountains of paper-based lessons in their teaching arsenal. The idea of losing all of those resources can in itself be enough to keep a teacher from going paperless.

My proposal is to make the move toward paperless by changing one lesson at a time. Making an effort to change one or two lessons per grading period is a step in the right direction. Some classes (including my own) may never be truly paperless, but they can all be closer to paperless than when we start the journey.

The first step is to take stock. Take a look at the lessons you currently do that require the use of paper. Are there things that you can do with the same lesson that do not involve paper? That is a step in the right direction.

But it is not enough to simply replace paper with technology.

Evaluating the value of the lesson is important if we want our paperless classroom to be more engaging, more effective, and more valuable to our students. In my presentation last week, I showed three pictures. One was an old film projector, one was an overhead projector (the transparency variety) and the other was a ceiling-mounted projector (the type that connects to a computer). I asked “what do these three tools have in common?”

All three of them project something on a wall. The film projector converts film to something viewable, the overhead projector converts plastic sheets to something viewable, and the ceiling-mounted projector converts ones and zeroes to something viewable. Making electronic copies of transparencies so they can be shown through the ceiling-mount is not a move toward anything. It is replacing one method of delivery to another.

In order to use technology effectively, we must evaluate our lessons and enhance them with the use of technology. One example of this is assessing whether students “get” a lesson. Making the switch from a paper quiz to a quiz I’ve developed on Blackboard isn’t enough. Opening a CoverItLive session during the lesson so that I can see how engaged my students are, what questions they have, and what the lesson makes them think might be a step in the right direction.

As teachers, we are taught to reflect on our lessons and make them better. This is an absolute necessity when we are transitioning toward technology. Otherwise, we might become satisfied with the same lessons in a prettier box.

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