The transition to the 1:1 classroom regularly goes hand in hand with a call for teachers to go paperless. The idea is a popular one for schools (and businesses) who can realize quick savings from reduced paper costs and offset the cost of the new devices. It can also be popular with teachers for a variety of conveniences when distributing and collecting materials. But what about learning? Is moving to paperless a step forward or a high tech way of doing exactly what we have always done albeit electronically?
In the initial stages of a 1:1, teachers begin to convert already existing materials into electronic copies. Copies become PDF’s or Google Docs. In most cases, these materials do not differ from what they were on paper. These digital resources are easier to share, and when used with an LMS system or an understanding of Google Docs, can be easy to collect. This simple substitution can initially be a comfort to teachers and students. It connects them to patterns that they recognize and can build an understanding of devices in a context that is familiar: “Pass out materials, collect when completed.” Once comfortable, many teachers move on to replicate other past products; the electronic poster, a dynamic graphic organizer, interactive timelines. While these electronic, often web-based tools can be more dynamic than their paper predecessors, and can be more exciting for students, do they represent a real shift in learning? Where should schools be headed next?
Even within this simple replication, there are clear advantages to Paperless 1.0. Students can submit work to teachers AND still possess that work. That dual possession can be powerful and allow for a faster exchange of feedback. Communication is more immediate, and in many cases, students can be receiving real-time feedback during the PROCESS of creation rather than just on the PRODUCT of creation. Feedback can evolve into a deeper continual process rather than a momentary one. It can be more personal and directed towards specific individual needs.
Yet, in order for educational technology to transcend its past patterns, paperless work will need to expand beyond the confines of an 8 ½ x11 mindset not just the 8 ½ x 11 page. Electronic posters will have to be move beyond being an e-poster stored in the cloud. A key part of moving beyond these limits is for teachers to move beyond the constructs that have defined assignments. While it is hard to look and see the path forward clearly, we can look back and examine past constructs that have been replaced as well as where the classrooms of today came from. Educational technology has come a long way. Imagine if we were to conduct our classes today, but were limited only to the technology of the past.
-Imagine the classroom where slate tablets were the peak of technology? How did students go back and reflect on their previous learning? How did they write beyond the few lines they could fit on the few small inches of slate?
-Imagine a modern science class without the benefit of microscopes and accurate tools for measurement? How would this affect the ability of students to see and interact with real scientific situations. Could we imagine going back to that?
-Imagine a classroom or school that is not connected to the internet and how the economy of information in that class affects students compared to those who are not connected.
Perhaps defining what Paperless 2.0 is requires us to imagine what future teachers might say as they look back on our classrooms. “Wow, imagine if all the learning and work had to find its way to paper, our students would be missing out on so much.” The size of an idea need not be limited by the amount of paper available to contain it.
As technology allows us to remove the physical restraints on our classroom products, we – as educators – should be working to remove our conceptual limits and free ourselves and our students to explore what is possible.
Shawn is a Is a Instructor and Presenter for EdTechTeacher. He will be Featured Presenter at the upcoming iPad Summit Boston.