The Journey into the (Almost) Paperless Year

Photo of paper and books from my desk

Paper and books on my desk

The Challenge of Going Paperless

So, we are a little past the halfway point of the school year and my jump into trying to go paperless in my classroom. When I set up this blog back in the summer, one of the things I said I wanted to do was go paperless–at least as much as I could. I thought now would be a pretty good time to take an assessment of where I stand on that journey.

During the summer I knew that I needed about key areas and come up with some kind of plan before school started. The more I had in place and ready to roll on day 1, the easier my life would be in those first days and weeks of school. I felt that with all the students coming into class with an iPad for the first time they were going to expect some differences while they were learning to use the new device in their hands–why not change the way they receive, complete, and turn in assignments. Just about all of the planning I did centered around my English classes because my journalism students did most of their work on computers anyway and computer class speaks for itself.

So, with my English classes in mind, I thought about the following:

  1. Reading assignments/textbooks
  2. Distributing and receiving assignments
  3. How to handle big projects
  4. What to do about quizzes and tests
  5. How to give feedback

I thought that if I could come up with a plan that required the students to use only their iPads in regards to those areas I had a pretty good chance of going paperless in my classroom.

The Plan

1. Reading assignments/textbooks: I knew this was going to be a problem area pretty quick. Our school was adopting new literature textbooks; and while I hoped for an accompanying etext or online version, I knew chances were slim. Most of the online version of high school literature books required flash–and we all know the iPad doesn’t do flash. Shortly after school started I discovered that our new textbooks did have PDFs available of almost every page in the hard copy. So, students didn’t have to lug home the heavy textbook if they didn’t want to. I am also able to email copies of the reading assignment to students who were absent.

For my college credit English class I knew from the start that their textbook was not available. So, I just accepted that the best I could do was to provide additional reading materials in an electronic form, usually through email.

For any outside readers like novels, the students have the choice to either buy a hardcopy or an ebook.

2. Distributing and receiving assignments: This was probably the easiest area to plan. I decided that anything that would have been given to students as a handout would now be emailed to them. As far as turning in homework, the students wold just email them in to me. I set up a gmail account just for sending and receiving assignments. On the first day of school I had the students send an email to the account so that I had all the email addresses and could sort their addresses into groups by class period. I also set up folders for each class period to hold their assignments. This has worked pretty well so far.

3. How to handle big projects: When I say “big projects” I mostly mean things like research papers, or assignments that are a collection of smaller, linked assignments. For this I decided that I would set up a blog for each student using Edublogs with the intent of having them use the blog as an alternative to a 3-ring binder or portfolio. My classes are just about to begin their big projects for the year, so I can’t come to any conclusions on the project aspect yet. The students do use the blogs regularly to complete various assignments that have them respond to what we are reading and each other’s ideas. To keep track of the blogs, and to speed up assessing them, I used Google’s reader service on the account I set up for receiving homework. I then installed Feeddler Pro on my iPad and have it linked to that gmail account. The blogs are listed in groups according to class period so that I can tell at one glance who has completed their blog assignment.

4. What to do about quizzes and tests: During the summer I worried that this was going to be the area that kept me from completely gong paperless. I wanted a system that allowed students to take quizzes and tests on their iPads but minimized any temptation to cheat. I found some apps and software systems that would work, but they all meant the administration would have to spend some more money. So, I am still in a holding pattern on this one. My students take quizzes and tests in the traditional paper form.

5. How to give feedback: This turned out easier than I thought. For ordinary homework assignments I reply in an email to the assignment the student emailed me. For blog posting I leave a comment on their post. For longer assignments like formal essays, I use the Goodreader app on my iPad to annotate a PDF of their essay and then email that back to them. I absolutely love Goodreader because I can circle, highlight, and write comments on the essay like it was a printed version.

The Results Thus Far

At this point in the school year, I think the move towards a paperless classroom has gone pretty well. On the few occasions that there are stacks of paper on my desk from students, it is far, far smaller than in previous years; it also means that the stack consists of quizzes,tests, or a homework assignment from a student whose iPad is out of the picture for some reason.

At some point in the future, I may have to do a post about some of the challenges involving some students having their iPads–and some general challenges that pop up from time-to-time.

As always any comments, questions,  or suggestions are welcome.