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As I add to the multiple blog posts around the internet on the paperless classroom, I consider the purpose of writing this at all. Everything has been said already right? Well, not quite...

As every moment goes by, someone creates a new tool, a new technology, a new method to make going paperless that much easier, smoother, less prone to disruption and overall just a little bit better. The first blog posts I started reading about going paperless were about 10 years ago. A lot has changed since then, and that change needs to be documented. So here is my 2 penneth. In summary, I try and address these questions

  • What is going paperless?

  • Why go paperless?

  • Why have some not gone paperless?

  • What can go wrong?

  • How is it easier than before?

  • What tools did I use?

What is going paperless?

Going paperless in the educational sense is the use of technology to eliminate the use of paper based materials, such as text books, exercise books, lined paper in folders, printed material in class. This is usually replaced by computers, tablets, and screens.


Why go paperless?

There are many reasons. For one, it helps the environment as considerably less trees are required to sustain the teaching and learning in your classroom.

Besides that, things can get a bit more organised IF done correctly. If you're not careful, things can get worse, but we will get into that later. With less paper based materials to lug around, transporting work to and from home (if that is your thing) can be done much easier. E.g. all the work on a USB memory stick, or on the cloud (where it all belongs in my opinion). Everything can stay in one place, if done properly, like in set of folders in Google Drive, or all in a VLE, such as Google Classroom, or Moodle.

It encourages people to use tools where paper based methods would usually be used (see my post on SAMR for more on this). So instead of using a paper based quiz which would take a while to mark, even if you had students mark each other work, you could use a self marking online quiz which would give instant feedback.

There could be more continuity of learning. Whatever is done in the classroom can be seen from home and vice versa, which will encourage students to work from home (if homework is a thing you do).


Why have some not gone paperless yet?

So, if it is so awesome. Why hasn't everyone made the switch? Because it is not always easy. It's not a case of burning all the paper in sight and miraculously turning the computer on to find all your work has appeared there. To set it all up at the beginning takes preparation, time, knowledge, training and support. However, the hardest thing is change in culture, which is usually more difficult for those that have been teaching longer, with already established resources and methods which not only work, but work well. Also, depending on the subject you teach, some things are more difficult than others. For example, in sciences and mathematics, which need formulas and calculations, writing these down was way more difficult before the advent of digital tablets or pen enabled computers. Even now, they are not as common as they need to be.

Also, things can go wrong...


What can go wrong?

Depending on the methods used, a computer (or form of computer, including tablet, laptop or chromebook etc) with an internet connection would be required within the school. Depending on the type and location of the school this may be harder than it seems. For example, a paperless classroom in an academy in the heart of in London would be much easier to realise than a school in the war torn ruins of Syria.

Even in great conditions, websites go down. Google has experienced issues in the past on their servers. Although not common, it does happen. Less established companies may experience issues more often, meaning your classes and resources may not be as reliable either.

Lack of training or knowledge on tools that are relied upon by teachers and students is the biggest barrier to realising the paperless classroom, in my opinion. It doesn't matter how many chromebook are available in your school if no one knows how to turn them on or charge them at the end of the day. 


How is it easier than it was before?

Starting with hardware, chromebooks, which may well have been available for years now are even better than they were before and at a good price. Fast, HD touch screened, light weight devices with batteries that easily last the whole day and then some are a far cry from what I started with. Huge laptops that got so hot you needed protective clothing, so slow it would take the whole lesson to turn on and log in, with no sound and monochrome to boot, were what I had to deal with once upon a time (the good old days). These are no longer an issue. More mention of hardware leads to all the great tools and toys available, like Makey Makey Boards, Raspberry Pis, Sphero balls, AR and VR goggles, drones and the like. These are great for STEM subjects like computer science and design technology.

Software wise, no longer do you have to rely on email to communicate and transport homework (this is showing my age, or experience as I like to call it...). You have Google Classroom, which has come a long way over the years with all its improvements, Edmodo, as well as Moodle (if you are able to set it up or lucky enough for your school to afford a good Moodle administrator). All the software mentioned is free to use too, which is an important factor for me. You also have Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, near limitless cloud storage for files, mobile phone technology enabling the use of apps to record data, share and create learning opportunities and collaborate.

For me the biggest improvement over the years is the elimination of the need to save in platforms like in Google Apps for Education. Saving happens automatically with Google, which take a bit of getting used to but stops people from losing their work. Just a little thing which for me has had a huge impact.


What tools did I use?

My classrooms have been paperless since 2013 and there are a range of tools I have used over the years. The tools I regularly use are documented in my blog post Edtech Log: the 24 Tools I currently use, and a glimps of how I used them can be seen in my Google Sites in the Classroom post.  I'll leave you to read through those for now and will save the detail of how I used the tools specifically for teaching and learning in the classroom for part 2.


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