Going paperless seems like a luxury for many teachers. Most schools can’t afford to buy top-of-the-line tablets for their students or pay the salaries of digital educators and technology managers. However, more counties and school districts are encouraging educators to ditch paper.
Is going paperless an option for low-budget classrooms? Can teachers help the environment while preparing their students for the digital world? Here is how you can responsibly handle digital education while working toward a paperless classroom.
Ditching Paper for a Digital Classroom
There’s no denying that going paperless is a significant trend in the world of education. Students can submit homework digitally, learn about topics online, and even take state-wide standardized tests on a computer. Most administrators agree that a digital learning environment is the best way to engage students and prepare them for the future.
“The old model is really outdated,” says Grace Magley, director of digital learning at Natick Public Schools in Massachusetts. “Students need not only content knowledge, but they need 21st-century skills. And they need to be self-directed in their learning.”
Students today have to learn how to research online, identify reliable online resources versus ads or fake news, and communicate with each other digitally (outside of a social media environment).
Going digital isn’t necessarily an innovative step in schools. In the 20th century, students needed to learn typing if they wanted to enter the evolving workforce. In the 21st century, students need to be able to navigate the web to participate in their communities as active citizens.
“Students of today live in a technology saturated world,” agrees Dr. Thomas Roedl aka Tom Solid behind the #PaperlessMovement. “When they can use time-saving apps and online search in school, they can act on the information they learn, search for supplemental materials, and complete assignments more quickly than through traditional methods.”
This is the traditional counterargument to the idea that students learn better by writing out information by hand. With digital technology, students can access more images, videos, and learning materials than with textbooks. They are more likely to find something that catches their interest and sticks with them than simply reading a section from the book.
Most teachers agree students need digital literacy to succeed in life, but what happens if you lack the resources?
5 Tips for Going Paperless on a Budget
Cost is always a factor when moving to paperless classrooms.
If that’s stopping your school from moving forward, you’ll be interested to note that according to the team at School Specialty, schools actually save money in the long-run with a 1:1 adoption plan. The short-run costs are certainly significant, but because tablets and other devices usually include apps and features such as built-in calculators, schools don’t have to purchase these additional learning tools separately.
If you have been avoiding digital adoption in your classroom, you’re not alone. Rebecca Joyner, the teacher behind the It’s Not Rocket Science blog, says she avoided digitization, hoping the whole paperless trend would blow over. Issues like unreliable school WiFi, tech problems, and classroom management seemed insurmountable.
However, with pressure from other teachers and administration, she has since come around to the paperless world. Joyner now creates digital materials to supplement paper-based lesson plans so she has them as an option. She hasn’t completely embraced the paperless world, but is more welcoming to a blended digital learning environment.
You don’t have to go completely paperless, but you can take steps to significantly reduce paper dependency in your classroom.
Use Whiteboards and Other Reusable Teaching Materials
Going paperless doesn’t always mean going digital. Former teacher Amber Calderon encourages teachers to embrace white boards and laminated materials kids can write on and erase. Children get excited about markers and you can create materials once and reuse them. Students can still work on their handwriting and step away from the screen without using piles of paper.
Tie Paper Reduction into Lesson Plans
Some teachers are using their transition to a more paperless model as part of their lesson plans, especially in STEAM-focused classrooms. For example, Lauren Bowen at Zero Waste Memoirs says reducing one ton of paper can save approximately 24 mature trees. She explains how each year, 13 million hectares of forest disappear and two percent of the Amazon rainforest is cut down — adversely affecting our environment and the ecology that relies on those trees to live.
Teachers discussing environmental changes and biology can explain why they are moving to a paperless model so students look for ways to use less paper in their own lives at school and at home.
Clear Out Unnecessary Papers in Your Classroom
If you want to create a paperless statement, go through your cabinets and desk drawers to recycle paper you’ve been holding onto but not using.
Instead of keeping paper worksheets and learning materials, educator and instructional coach Shari Edwards encourages teachers to scan and upload them, for online access and storage. These are easier to organize online and you can sort and name the sheets based on their subject matter. This also makes it easy to share learning materials with other teachers.
Make Sure You Have Support for Your Digital Resources
When you do find digital resources that you like, make sure they have the best infrastructure possible.
Sign up for a demo version or training seminar for any new technological product you use, advises Dorotea Knežević at A Web Whiteboard. Most tools and apps have some kind of training process for you. Otherwise you risk spending hours trying to learn it on your own and it might be more difficult to teach your students how to use the tool. (You can request a free 1:1 training demo with one of our STEAM specialists at Ozobot, here!)
She says to steer away from a product if you experience less than stellar customer support. When you have a problem, you want people just a call away who are ready to help.
Make Going Paperless Optional
Administrators and principals can also make the paperless process easier by understanding how their teachers use paper.
Education writer Sarah Kuta encourages them to take a triage approach to reducing paper in the classroom. Instead of creating a blanket policy to become a paperless school, look for the best opportunities to go paperless that would have the biggest paper impact and a positive impact on students and teachers.
“Your school’s needs are unique, and each classroom’s needs are unique as well,” she writes. Teachers will be more open to reducing paper if they have control over what they eliminate, rather than what the administration thinks they can cut.
Your Classroom Doesn’t Need to Go Fully Digital
Some teachers see paperless learning as an all-or-nothing affair; however, more educators are actually advocating a healthy middle ground. It is possible to significantly reduce paper use without going entirely digital.
Not All Schools or Students Have Access to Digital Resources
Not all lessons need to go digital. Many teachers believe that if the lesson is only slightly impacted by technology, then a paper-based lesson is just fine. Plus, some classrooms and students aren’t equipped to go digital.
“If the inclusion of technology means the exclusion of some learners, we need to rethink it,” writes Kellie Ady, director of instructional strategy at Schoology. “We have plenty of schools who aren’t in 1:1 situations, so being very thoughtful about how we maximize learning with technology will serve us well.”
For reference, 1:1 refers to the practice of every student having their own personal electronic device.
“Making paper-based resources available to all means that every student can engage with content away from school without worrying about finding a device to use or an internet connection to login to,” agrees middle school teacher Sheldon Soper, who has a 1:1 classroom.
Having paper alternatives prevents teachers from creating an achievement gap in their classrooms.
Screens Create a Wall Between Student and Teachers
There’s another benefit of blending non-tech and digital teaching approaches. When kids are learning behind screens, there is a literal barrier between them and their instructor, notes teacher Martine Ellis at The Teaching Space podcast. It’s much easier for students to tune out, whether they are working ahead or simply playing on the computer.
Educational technology consultant Julie Smith agrees with using classroom technology in moderation. Switching entirely to digital learning does just as much of a disservice to students as limiting their computer use altogether. She encourages teachers to ask themselves how a device-based activity will benefit their students when developing a lesson plan. Sometimes the best way to get young students excited is to break out the paper, crayons, and glitter.