Going Paperless: It’s not just about the assignments

This is the fourth article in a series about making the transition from a traditional to a paperless classroom.

I haven’t seen any official studies on this, but my observations lead me to believe that a good portion of the paper wasted in a classroom is not from worksheets or other paper-based assignments, but from other sources, such as rubrics being printed at least twice per student (once to hand to students and once for grading purposes), attendance sheets being printed daily, grade sheets, progress reports, lesson plans, and the like being printed every time a teacher wants to look at them, and emails being printed.

I could go into a rant about emails and attendance sheets and the like being printed, but I won’t. What I’d like to focus on in this article are the rubrics. Rubrics can be a good thing – they help students to know what is expected of them and they help teachers to grade assignments that don’t have a clearly defined “answer” to grade. As a science teacher, I like the fact that questions are generally either right or wrong. However, in projects, there are areas that I need a guideline to follow when grading.

In a more paperless classroom (remember, I am still making the transition myself), there are some ways to keep from printing rubrics. The first, if your students have access to internet, is to make the rubric available online, rather than printing a paper copy. They can refer to the rubric anytime and don’t have to keep track of a piece of paper. In my experience, most of the rubrics I’ve handed out have either ended up on the floor, in the trash, or jammed into the abyss that is the interior of a student’s backpack. Teachers can use sites such as drop.io or box.net to share these small files with their students.

The other side of rubric waste is the grading process. Admittedly, I have been known to make enough copies of a rubric to grade each student’s assignment. Thanks to an idea from a co-worker, I have used a different method this year, and it has worked really well. The method I’ve been using is to use a screen capture program (I use Camtasia, but Jing works just as well), to grade and provide feedback to students electronically.

The process is simple. Open the project and start the screen capture. As you scroll through the project, talk to the student about the things you like and the things that could be improved upon. Have a copy of the rubric open on your computer as well, and after providing feedback on the project, go through the rubric on your screencast and explain the grade that will be assigned. If you have the capabilities, you can even write directly onto the project/rubric (using a tool such as a Graphire pen tablet) to show editing marks, add comments, make smiley faces, and whatever else you would like to add to your feedback.

Once you have finished, you are able to provide students with a feedback video they can watch, and you have not spent any more time than you would have if you had graded the project in a traditional way. At the same time as you view the project for the first time, you are grading and providing feedback.

Extending this to peer review is easy. Students don’t have to have special software to do their own screencasts. They can use online screen capture tools such as ScreenToaster to critique other student’s projects.


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