The Paperless Process

When talking about “The Paperless Process,” we really need to keep in mind that:

  • there is no singular “right way” to go paperless — there are several possible solutions here;
  • the “paperless process” is not a single process, but a series of processes that represent the whole collection of myriad tasks and jobs we must accomplish in a classroom.

Learning can be a chaotic process, and school tends to have a whole slew of varied tasks and demands — whether this means the many different subjects that students learn in a high school or university setting, or all of the various subjects and tasks they must learn in elementary school: reading, writing, math, science, history, geography, art, music, even physical education.

These different tasks have different needs and demands, so it may be obvious that different technology tools will address those needs to different degrees. A device that may work very well for reading and writing tasks may not suffice at all for art, science, or math tasks.

This is why versatility of hardware, software, and processes and procedures must be considered.  Really, we can look at the varied needs of a paperless classroom as two sides of the same learning coin:

1) Content Consumption (Acquisition) — How is knowledge and information delivered to the students? These days there is a lot of talk about “flipping” the classroom, e-books, and “gamification,” but it all boils down to one thing: how do students acquire knowledge? Do they do it independently, or guided by a teacher? In reality, a paperless device and paperless classroom should allow students multiple paths to obtain knowledge, including online websites, e-books, videos, interactive tutorials, simulations, practice games, and assessment tools.

2) Productivity (Application) — The other equally-important (or more importan, in my opinion) side of the coin is: what can students do with that knowledge? How can they apply it, to show that they can extend lower-order skills to higher-order problem-solving tasks, and to be productive 21st-century workers and citizens? In reality, this is the end result we want from school — not mere acquisition of knowledge, but the ability to actually use and apply that intellectual toolkit in “the real world.”

Be Your Own Sub!

I have been teaching students using technology for many years now, and one thing that I have always dreaded over the past decade of using edtech is: being absent. Now, I’m pretty sure every teacher gets some level of anxiety when he/she can’t be in the classroom and must trust our precious students and lessons in the hands of a stranger. But when you add technology — and all of the challenges that come along with it — to the mix, that feeling is compounded. What if the substitute teacher is not tech-savvy or even computer literate? What if something goes wrong in the class?

Well, in the past, I would type up very detailed instruction guides — basically, tutorial packets — with step-by-step screenshots, annotations, and other illustrations along the way. As you might imagine, that is a very time-consuming task! It would take me 2-3 hours of work just to get 6 hours off! (Obviously, I avoided being absent as much as humanly possible.)

However, now that my students are in a 1:1 classroom, I can take a different approach: I can simply make a short recording, giving them all of the instructions myself! Obviously, I don’t want to throw any major curveballs by introducing entirely new concepts and procedures to the mix, but this can be a great way to ensure students have a resource they can refer to if they get stuck or need a reminder of how to do something, and you don’t need to depend on the sub to be able to explain it all. Best of all, it only takes about 30 minutes to do… much faster than the detailed sub plans I was creating!