Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ditch Paper and Get to the Thinking Faster

Will Richardson recently wrote Get. Off. Paper where he asked readers, “Does anyone think most of the kids in our classes are going to be printing a bunch of paper in their grown up worlds? If you do, fine; keep servicing the Xerox machine. But if you don’t, which I hope is most of you, are you doing as much as you can to get off paper?” I ask the same question to many of those with whom I work. One of my first blog posts was written to address that question, “How I Lost 20 Pounds in One Month On A Paperless Diet. Going paperless not only helps the environment, it enables me to work much more efficiently and effectively. Of course trying to convince others to do so as well is not so easy as it requires a complete paradigm shift in the way people work and play.

Fortunately, as the manager of professional development services for the NYC DOE I am able to help many educators down that path. Despite some initial protesting from the paper-trained, our professional development went completely paperless about four years ago. Taking notes is never necessary. Everything is posted for participants at a wiki or our website which I show them how to download as class begins. There they will find a facilitator guide outlining all content presented, materials, links to resources, a participant agenda, a digital presentation (i.e. PowerPoint, Smart Notebook, etc.), and links to every single document we use or material we reference. Rather than engaging in the low level thinking task of copying down what the presenter shares, participants in our classes can get to the thinking faster and move beyond copying. Instead they go right to thinking about, commenting on, and begin producing, creating, and acting on it right there in the class.

The days of audience as a transcriber are gone. Instead when attending a class or presentation, participants are not required to regurgitate what they hear by copying it down (we provide this), but instead to think about concepts, post the thinking to discussion boards, carry on backchats at places like Skype or Chatzy, or since participants have freed up their time now that they’re not taking notes, they are producing work they can use back at schools i.e. action plans, videos, audio casts, Voice Threads, Vokis’s, etc. After the class, workshop, or presentations we usually write to participants encouraging them to keep the conversation going and stay connected on the discussion board, social network, blog etc. that we used in the class. I’m also looking into using http://wiffiti.com for larger audiences that may have cells, but not computers.

With the advent and availability of sublaptops it is clear that it’s time for this to go beyond the adults and into schools who can ditch the paper and copy machines in exchange for the more cost effective alternative--The $100 - $300 laptops that will last for years and eliminate the need for all paper, handouts, textbooks, and books, mags, newspapers in general. You can read about how one school is doing this by reading about, “The Power of 21st Century Teaching and Learning Brought to Life at Bronx Middle School CIS 339’s Open House."

Of course we’ll still have to account for the digital immigrants who are more set in there ways as I experienced a while back. When reviewing class materials following a PD, a participant called to say when she clicked on a particular link nothing happened. I walked her through the process a few times and she said it still didn’t work. When I asked her what browser she was using she sounded confused. After some digging I realized she had printed the materials out and was literally tapping her paper. True story.


  1. This is an interesting issue to me right now because I, like many teachers I'm sure, am dealing with the expectation from parents of homework in the form of worksheets. We are working one way in class with the computers, smart boards, and other activities, and yet when I don't send worksheets home, parents want to know why. I have a few parents beginning to rally around our class blog - they can see all the work the kids are doing - but most still look for those texts and worksheets to come home. Educating the parents and helping them to change their expectations will also be a challenge.

  2. rather than use paper journals my students now post reading responses, comments on topical issues I or they come up with,and their book log on a class blog. Results were very satisfactory, product-wise, and time wise for me grading meant only four hours as opposed to about ten. I'm sitting here tonight with time to read this, as opposed to student work.

  3. When I post assignments on my blog, I often include links to pdfs of the lesson or lesson videos through services like jing. Many students easily switch between the pdfs/videos and the work at hand. However, there are still a number of students who request the print-out versions and seem to get more work done when it is provided. I wonder if it is simply a matter of kicking the paper habit or if there are some cognitive issues involved in one's choice of learning medium.

  4. I work in what is supposed to be a paperless school, but over the past year and a half we have begun to use a TON of paper! Like lahana, I also encounter students (especially those with Special Education needs) who prefer paper. In some cases it is a matter of familiarity and seems to be more of a crutch, but for other kids the paper really does help them process and focus.

    The part that KILLS me is that as an educator, I find paper easier to grade. (That is for documents - like veep I find that blogs and discussion boards are quicker to assess than paper journals.) With other files though, opening files/tracking changes etc. is time-consuming and immensely frustrating!

    I am testing out a tablet PC this month to see if it speeds up my grading of digital assignments. We'll see how it goes!!

  5. Interesting. I've created my list (in preparation for conducting a professional development workshop) http://quality-instruction.blogspot.com/2009/07/going-digital-paperless-and-still.html