Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Paperless Plan: A Recap and a Question for the Future

I began this blog as an effort to chronicle my move toward paperless teaching. This started out as a six-week experiment with one of my classes. We read 1984 and other short texts, students posted reflections and analyses on personal blogs and on the class wiki, they used Twitter to post links and questions as they completed related research, and for their final assessment groups created Animoto videos (one research-based on a theme related to the novel and one reenactment of an assigned excerpt).

The response from my students was positive pretty much across the board. They were more interested in completing assignments, were more willing to write, had a better understanding of the material, and were better able to discuss the issues inherent in the novel both with their classmates and with me. There's an interesting elegance in paperless lessons, as well... a flow that you have to work a little harder to achieve in a traditional classroom. Once the kids get a feel for the daily routine, the tools connect one to another, and activities feel more intuitive. It just makes more sense to do it this way.

The one kink in the paperless plan is our network. It has become increasingly unreliable, particularly our wireless. For my classes, I've used a set of thirty laptops checked out from our library. While last semester we were able to carry on with our work with a few hiccups here and there, this semester's attempts have been incredibly frustrating; at times, only two or three students have been able to log in successfully. Moreover, I've been told that getting our network running properly is "not a priority." The computer tech that is assigned to our school has been immensely helpful, but for anything beyond tending to the computers themselves his hands are often tied.

So the question is this: How do I try to improve this situation so that my kids have access to the tools they need?

In the meantime, we're being flexible. Last Friday we had access to six working computers in the library. So as some students held discussions of the week's material in their study groups, we rotated others through so that they could get a little work done online. We're setting deadlines far in advance to make sure students can arrange for computer time outside of class. And I'm re-working a number of my assignments, turning them into collaborative projects, so we can still use those working computers (in some ways this has made the lessons even better!).


  1. I enjoyed reading this post. With technology there are always challenges. Unreliable internet access is one. However, I like how you persevere because paperless classrooms help the environment.

  2. This is a good summation of a way that many teachers can effectively and reasonably incorporate technology into their classroom. Thanks. I wonder if some of your assignments can be submitted using cell phones, whether via texting (limited number of characters) or call in using Voicethread or Voki. This may give you some options that don't rely on the school's network and students can even submit outside of class.