What Teachers Need to Consider When Designing a Paperless Classroom

It’s the age-old struggle for educators: “How do I reach my students?” And for every generation of students, there have been different answers.

It is no different for today’s teachers. They are locked in a constant battle with themselves and their students as to how to maximize their teaching time in the classroom and their students’ learning potential. As they look for solutions, more teachers are realizing how educational technology can help bridge the gap between teaching and learning.

For teachers, educational technology is quickly becoming their biggest challenge and greatest asset. Technology is making an impact in classrooms in two key ways: By changing the way students learn and by changing the way educators teach.

Students today don’t engage the same way students of the past did.

“When today’s tech-savvy students are presented with traditional textbooks, worksheets, and magazines that are older than they are, they quickly become disengaged learners,” Mimio educator Paul Gigliotti, wrote in a Boxlight blog post.

Another benefit of integrating technology into the classroom is teachers can more effectively connecting with students of all learning styles.

This is why educators are turning to technology to try and reach students. The result of this shift is paperless classrooms.

The Benefits and Challenges of a Paperless Classroom

As educators explore the idea of a paperless classroom, it is important for them to understand some of the key benefits and challenges of this type of learning environment.

How Teachers Can Benefit

For teachers, the biggest benefit is more time to teach. Because of the paperless environment, teachers no longer have to spend so much time running copies or shuffling papers around, creating a more sustainable and efficient workflow, and resulting in increased instruction time, says Dorotea Knezevic, head of marketing at A Web Whiteboard.

This efficiency is made possible because of the paperless classrooms’ instant access to resources, explains the team at GoodNotes. Rather than running 30 copies of an outdated resource to hand out to students, some of which will inevitably be lost, teachers can drag and drop current learning resources in online portals that students can access anytime, anywhere.

Access to data is another key benefit for teachers. When teachers know what is going on in their classrooms, they can more effectively solve problems, create lesson plans and adjust teaching styles. With a paperless classroom, teachers have instant access to student data that can alert them to issues the students may be having grasping concepts, or how a student is progressing over time, notes Knezevic.

Armed with this data and educational technology, teachers can provide more focused, personalized instruction to students that help them perform at their best.

“Teachers can use technology-based assessments to inform their instruction. These assessments can quickly produce data and surface patterns that help teachers identify where students are faltering and intervene with targeted coaching immediately before the student falls too far behind,”  Khan Academy Founder Sal Khan wrote for Fast Company.

In a paperless classroom, teachers become a part of the learning environment, not apart from it by dictating from the front of the classroom. They can immerse themselves in the material alongside students and encourage a more open dialogue.

The Benefits to Students

Students also benefit from paperless classrooms, especially when it comes to keeping themselves organized. Not all students are equally capable of organizing and filing papers to keep up with multiple classes. Invariably, students lose or forget papers and textbooks.

“Students do not need to develop a filing system, and even disorganized students can find their lecture notes organized for them on Blackboard by the teacher, week by week,” writes educator Laurence Craven at the American University of Sharjah. “The use of a scanned textbook eliminates the problem of students forgetting their work, and there is no longer any need for them to carry heavy textbooks to class – so no excuses!”

Perhaps the greatest benefit to students is the opportunity for collaboration with classmates and teachers. Students can share their assignments and work together in groups to solve problems. They can reach out to their teachers, even outside of school, and reasonably expect some help or feedback with their assignments before school the next day.

This collaboration helps create a more engaged student. As former Pearson researcher Liane Wardlow, Ph.D., explains, when students have access to more learning resources, tools, and information, they become immersed in a topic — some to the point of directing their own learning. This is a level of engagement seldom reached in traditional classrooms.

The Key Challenges to Consider

One of the biggest hurdles to a paperless classroom is funding for devices and applications. Access to internet-ready devices is not always feasible for all students. Not all schools have the budget to be able to purchase a class set of devices, and not all families are financially able to purchase devices for students to bring to class.

Technology can also be distracting in a classroom setting. There is the hurdle of setting up the technology and troubleshooting any issues that may arise, both of which can take up a significant chunk of class time. Also, students and teachers alike can have their attention diverted by games or social media, even though they are immersed in a learning activity, Bert Maxwell writes at Wandering Educators. Such distractions can set classes back in both literal time and mental acuity.

Training is another challenge for paperless classrooms, as going paperless requires both teachers and students to be trained on devices and applications for use in the classroom. If users aren’t properly trained, the risk for human error increases, which can eat into learning time.

When debating a transition to a paperless classroom, educators need to carefully examine their own comfort with technology, research solutions and educate themselves thoroughly on the benefits and challenges, because the transition to a paperless classroom isn’t an easy one.

How to Design a Paperless Classroom

When it comes to setting up a truly paperless classroom, there are a few key decisions that need to be made to ensure the new classroom environment is properly staged for a digital classroom.

Select a Learning Management System

A learning management system (LMS) is a virtual classroom that enables educators to increase classroom productivity and manage time efficiently, the staff at Edudemic explains.

These online ecosystems enable educators to manage their classrooms digitally, and often include interactive grade books, parent inclusion devices, student discussion forums, polls, collaborative tools and class calendars, wrote, teacher and author Jacqui Murray, on TeachHub.com.

Some of the most popular LMSs for educators in 2018, as selected by PCMag contributing editor William Fenton, include:

Develop an Implementation Strategy

Teachers should not attempt to go paperless without a specific strategy, advises teacher and educational technology blogger Bethany Petty. She notes that transitioning to a paperless classroom requires more work than simply moving the same old assignments online.

To create a strategy, Petty says, teachers need to reflect on their teaching practices and strategies, and then determine how they can improve them with technology. Once they understand how to work with the technology, educators can then create, assign and manage new assignments that work within the new learning environment and make the classrooms more engaging.

Choose the Tools Needed for the Classroom

A paperless classroom requires a variety of devices be available for the teacher and all students.

Smartboards have become a popular tool for teachers who have started to transition to a digital classroom. AppSheet contributing writer and former teacher Christina Morales explains that smartboards allow teachers to save interactive presentations, add pictures and video to their lesson plans, make slides, create lesson plans and link all of it to a smartboard in the classroom. They reduce the need for paper as the lesson is projected on the screen for students to follow.

Tablets or other selected mobile devices, such as mobile phones and e-readers, will need to be available for every student in the classroom for a paperless environment to work for everyone. Whether the school can supply them or students have to bring them is the challenge, as mentioned earlier.

There is a plethora of educational apps available to educators for creating a digital-facing learning environment in their classrooms. Choosing the best apps for the classroom can get overwhelming, so it’s important that teachers know their strategy before they embark on selecting apps to aid their paperless classroom.

Create Documents and Files

As Petty explains, a paperless classroom requires teachers to create new assignments with new documents and files. Teachers must put forth the required effort on the front end of paperless classroom development to reap the rewards on the back end.

A tool such as BookWidget can help teachers turn traditional content into engaging online tests and digital exercises.

Once these documents are created, they need to be stored in a file sharing system that teachers and students both can easily access, use and organize, such as Google Docs or Dropbox.

Create a Digital Classroom That Complements Teaching Styles

Successfully transitioning to a digital classroom hinges on a teacher’s ability to create a digital learning environment the complements the traditional environment.

It’s about finding common ground with students and reaching them in ways that encourage them to engage with lessons.

The traditional textbook, paper, and pen classrooms are losing the attention of today’s students, and teachers who are able to adapt their classrooms will be most effective at getting their students to absorb lessons.

Chad is Director of Communications at JotForm. He’s also a frequent contributor to various tech and business publications, and an absolute wizard with a Vitamix. He holds a master’s degree in communication and resides with his girlfriend and cats in Oakland, California. You can reach Chad through his contact form.

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