Going Paperless... Is It Good for Students?

Author Note: Please check out a more thorough version of this post on EdSurge posted on June 26. Thanks!

As I close in on the final weeks of the school year, I'm always buried in research papers, projects, and data. But I can't help but be slightly nostalgic for that sweet spot about a month into the school year.  It is then that I don't feel the rush to grade by a hard deadline, I've had a little time to get to know my students on both an academic and personal level, and I have plenty of room to experiment a bit with content and instruction.

It was at this point in late September/early October of 2013 that I decided to take the plunge and go completely paperless.  This was certainly a personal and professional challenge for myself, but now that I look back, did it have a beneficial impact on student learning?

Because if it didn't, none of it was worthwhile.
A little paperless artwork on my classroom whiteboard courtesy of some sophomores.

As part of some end-of-year reflecting and some planning for next year, I asked my students if they would be willing to write short reflections on how our paperless BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model has affected their learning.  This is what they said:

They Realized Their Phones Are Powerful Tools for Learning

"The use of technology is getting more and more popular, but what are we really using it for? When you look down at anyone's phone or iPad, you'll most likely see messages and social media. With such an amazing invention, we should expand what we can use these devices for, and bringing education into it is a great idea."

"BYOD hasn't been utilized as originally intended, but with Mrs. Gallagher's teaching methods, I feel as if we are reaching the intended purpose."

They Feel More Organized

"After spending a year in a paperless classroom, I've realized that taking notes and doing activities on iPads is a cleaner and more organized way of learning. It's nice because all your work is right there in the click of a button; there's no need for endlessly looking for a paper in an overfilled binder."

"I now have the ability to digitally store my notes in "the cloud" and have my notes accessible to me wherever I go, making organization much easier for me."

They Feel More Connected With Their Classmates

"This class has helped me immensely, getting through to my peers with the use of technology and sharing my thoughts and ideas. I know it is not the greatest thing to be hidden behind a computer screen, but through the use of new forms of communication with technology, I feel that I have gotten more comfortable with my classmates and can speak freely in front of them. We utilize programs such as backchannel and Google Drive to collaborate with other kids, making projects and presenting much easier."

They're Having More Fun... and Learning More!

"The devices have allowed access to new things in class and we are able to use many different apps.  Through the use of devices, students become more intrigued in their learning."

"Activities on iPads and computers are much more fun to do compared to just doing a worksheet for class, and you still get the information in your brain."

"I can honestly say that I have learned more through the use of technology in the classroom."

There are still days when our school's BYOD wifi is unreliable. There are still a few students who reach for paper now and then. All of that is part of the deal in a big high school with students of varying needs. We aren't paper-haters, but we are willing to try something new together to find out if the benefits outweigh the frustrations. It seems the majority of students feel that this is the way they want to learn, so I'll keep at it.


  1. I read your review on going paperless and I don't know what the point was of the reflection. The title implied that paperless was good for students but what you seemed to talk about was the activities you did which engaged students. You can change activities and not be paperless. I went paperless years ago using Moodle and it didn't improve student learning and engagement, it made the room paperless. If you have a great driving question you can engage students, once again without being paperless. When I went paperless in Moodle I found I could add activities which required students to work and think about the content, with a good driving question it was a nice marriage of blending digital and traditional learning. Since I was using an LMS, I could track who did and didn't respond to questions and remind them to do so. After getting responses calling on them to personally support their answer. Could I have done this without going paperless? Absolutely! Would've taken longer but I can do it. I challenge you Kerry to look at what really changed in your classroom was it being paperless that caused all of this or was it your approach to how students get content. Lastly, I appreciate you sharing your comments (all the good ones) but nothing negative and I'm not sure why? Bad comments are good for us as teachers and much can be learned from those kids who didn't embrace this change for you and us who read these kinds of blogs. Thanks!

    - Jason

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Jason! Your timing couldn't be better. Stay tuned... I've reached out to students for even more feedback since this was posted and I have more varied responses to add. I also surveyed my students halfway through the year and made adjustments based on what they said - positive and negative. I agree that much can be learned from the students who were not as enthralled with the paperless approach. Also, as you suggested, the way I frame content with "great driving questions" was also a factor. But I honestly believe that many of the activities and collaborations that were used to help students discover those questions were made possible by the paperless environment and the use of tablets/mobile devices. I'm not sure I agree that all of these things are just as possible with paper. My goal for the classroom isn't about delivering content, it is about creating an environment where students can discover. It sounds like you have the same mindset. Often, using technology to accomplish that has been the best approach. More to come, I promise!

  3. As a follow up to our conversation, please see this more complete analysis of my first year 'going paperless' at EdSurge: https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-06-26-students-speak-is-going-paperless-good-for-the-classroom


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