The "paperless" classroom

Remember when one of the arguments for technology in the classroom was that someday we’d have “paperless” classrooms? (When I was in business school, everyone was excited about the paperless office of the future.) That seems pretty silly now. First of all, technology seems to generate more paper, not less. More importantly though, there are so many great benefits to using technology — using less paper wouldn’t make the top 50.

That aside, this week I worked on a project that used technology to greatly reduce paper use in classrooms. The school already has Palm handhelds for their kids. They use them for brainstorming, research, writing, and assessment, among other things.

They also have a skills-oriented paper-based grammar and mechanics program that they really like, but using it requires making photocopies of hundreds of pages of materials for kids to do short practice exercises and assessments. So the teacher had an idea to put the paper handouts on the handhelds.

Being the tech integrator type that I am, I wanted to get fancier and so explored putting the activities into an assessment program so that they could be automatically scored, etc. In pursuing this, though, it turned out to be more work than it was worth. The activities would have had to been significantly reformatted and in some cases rewritten. In addition, most of the activities were only a few questions, so the benefits of “machine scoring” were trivial. So much for my great idea.

So we went back to just using the handhelds as a way to deliver the handouts. (Believe it or not, we made up paper bubble sheets for them to record their answers on. By consolidating this, we ended up with just 4 pages of paper for each kid vs. a few hundred and save the teacher a ton of time.) Not very technically elegant or innovative, but it worked.

Sometimes, the simple solutions are the best.

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