My first inclination when I think about a paperless class is joy at not having to schlepp papers back and forth from school. My desk would look a lot neater, too. And philosophically, I’m all for a more sustainable option. That being said, I wonder if the ability to work with a print text BY HAND, including underlining, highlighting, making notes in the margin, etc. would get lost when these skills are done on a computer screen. Now I have Diigo, and I’ve highlighted and taken notes with it, but somehow, those notes and highlights don’t seem to make as much of an impression as when I do this myself. I also think about my book club, where I can much more easily find a certain passage when I have the book in my hand than I can with my Kindle. And not only that, I retain much more when I read a paper version of a book than when I’m paging through an e-Reader. But that’s my reality, and maybe not one shared by the Net Generation.
As for assessment, grading papers is a much reviled task, but my eyes and neck don’t ache as much after an essay-grading session as they do when I sit at my computer for this online course. And to be honest, I’ve never misplaced student work when it’s handed in, but I have had students submit items online that I didn’t know about and had trouble finding later or couldn’t open because they had worked on a Mac at home. I will add, though, that Google Docs and Google Slides have really helped in this regard, since we rarely have Mac/PC issues anymore.
From the perspective of students, I think they would love the idea of decluttering and having only an electronic device to carry around from class to class instead of a heavy backpack filled with binders and books. Maybe they would be excited at never losing a paper since everything is online. But…would things get overlooked in the influx of so many online resources? Teachers can arrange wonderful shared online folders and detailed syllabi, but would those items become commonplace and removed from students’ immediate attention since they are remote? Would engagement with online resources become boring? Would students view working online as a way to do the minimal work as fast as possible? What about students with inconsistent or limited access to devices or Wi-Fi?
I don’t think my role as a teacher in a paperless class would change drastically. I would still plan lessons with multiple activities and assess students based on a combination of written, oral, and project-based tasks. I used a Google Folder for every class first semester (although I still continued to make copies for each student), and I didn’t notice a great reduction in requests for additional papers or in the overall satisfaction of students who were able to access material at all times.
In building a learning network, I believe that a paperless, online-only scenario leaves a great deal to be desired. Connections are for the most part fleeting and impersonal, despite attempts to bridge the gap with group work and personalized discussions. By meeting with students every day and providing access to materials online 24/7, however, paperless and paper scenarios could come together to maximize the learning community for students.
Maybe for me, finding a way to use less paper might be the way to go. I think there are times when students need hard copies, and times when an online version might be better. One example of this is for charts and graphs that rely on color to convey information. In this case, it would be better for students to view an online version instead of a black and white copy. For a text that we want to analyze and pick apart, it would be better for students to have a copy to annotate in a way that makes sense to them, which might be online or a hard copy. In any case, I am convinced of one thing. Creating a better framework for students online and providing access to materials outside of class would definitely aid students in becoming more self-directed and engaged with the material.