Pedagogy Behind the Paperless Classroom

I have been co-presenting with 6 of my students over the past few months at various conferences on the paperless classroom.  There are a few questions that are consistently brought up either with raised hands, on the backchannel during the session, or afterwards when attendees want to ask me face to face.  Most of them are clarifying questions around how a paperless classroom fits into teaching and learning pedagogy.  After our most recent workshop at MassCUE, I thought that these questions are asked so often it would be worth publishing

1. Why do you hate paper so much?

Ok, so no one has asked me this to my face at a conference.  But my colleagues and a few students have.  I've made an effort to preempt this question when I share at professional conferences by using this comical advertisement.

Funny, right?  No, I don't hate paper. It has an important place in our lives and in our education system.  In fact, although students don't have to keep any paper and I do not hand out paper as part of my class, I do post QR codes that are printed on paper throughout the room so students can scan them and quickly get access to resources.  We are paperless in the sense that nothing is distributed or recorded on paper, but I suppose we use a few sheets a week for QR codes.

My five-year-old comes home with drawings she has poured her little heart and soul into from kindergarten every day. I adore them.  They are on paper.  I do not hate paper.

2. What about the kids who are texting/tweeting/gaming while they're on their devices in your class? Are you worried they are missing out?

Here is how students responded on the backchannel:

In reality, sure, there are kids texting here and there in class.  I even see it happening.  But I don't call kids on it unless it is excessive and it is getting in the way of their learning.  As the students said in the backchannel, these instances are rare.  We have a human need to connect with others while we learn.  Instead of discouraging them from texting, I focus on encouraging them to collaborate constantly on the topic of the class.  As quoted by educators who were present and were tweeting, here is how I framed it when speaking with the educators at our workshop:

3.  Does a paperless environment really help students learn better?

It isn't that the learning is better or worse, I just see it as different.  There is little or no memorization required, although students learn facts through the process of analyzing information and creating something from it.  Instead, my focus is on building their capacity to learn rather than telling them how to learn.

Here's an example from the backchannel at our workshop last week.  The first message is a question from a teacher and the response that follows is from a student.

A workshop attendee even quoted Tessa and tweeted it out:

So, rather than tell them how they must use their devices to learn, I give them a historical essential question -- I am a history teacher after all -- and the resources they need to find the answer.  I suggest a way they can investigate, analyze, and create something that demonstrates their learning.  I also suggest the apps that might make that possible.  But if they have different ideas and different apps, I'm open to them and I usually say, "Yes!"  As long as they are learning the content in their own way, they are building their personal capacity to learn.

Another tweet from a workshop attendee:

4. My students are already "digital natives" and know more than I do.  What could I possibly teach them about tech that they don't already know?

Our students have never lived in a time when the Internet and cell phones did not exist.  They have always had access to each other and to information instantly.  The only phone booth-like stucture they're familiar with is the Tardis.  We may have to put in a bit more effort to integrate tech as naturally as they do in our own lives, but that doesn't mean that we don't have a LOT to teach them about the power of the devices they carry in their pockets everywhere they go.  An educator tweeting during my session at MassCUE quoted me:

They need to learn to find resources that are authentic and reliable from the plethora of high and low quality information available.  They need to learn how to use social media to make contact with people outside their community who are experts in the field.  There are countless other ways technology can be leveraged to learn in new ways, and they need teachers and parents to help them realize the possibilities.

5. You must be a 1:1 school.  How could I possibly do this when my school isn't 1:1?

Actually, we are a BYOD school.  This means students have secure access to wifi in our building.  They bring and use their own devices in school.  I happen to believe in this model more than 1:1 where schools choose the tool for the students.  My students are teenagers and, in conjunction with their parents, have a right to choose how and what they use to access the world.  No one device fits all.  I do think every students should have some kind of device, so I'm on board with 1:1 in that sense, but not when this means the device choice is made for the student.

There are several students in each of my classes who do not arrive with a smartphone, tablet, or netbook of their own.  But our school has laptop carts and iPads.  With planning, I can ensure that the students who need them can access them every day.

In the backchannel, my students explained how we make it work:

What about the paperless homework?

Most assignments are not due until 4-5 days after they are
assigned, so students have time to plan ahead for access.

Of course, nothing is flawless.  For my students and I the paperless model works and I have watched their enthusiasm for history grow as a result of the possibilities a paperless environment creates.  Going completely paperless is not necessary, but if educators teach their students to leverage the power of connecting ideas and people through technology I truly believe they will see a positive shift in their classrooms.


  1. I really appreciate with you.Nice Post. Thanks for publishing and sharing with us.
    And I will be active here to see this types of post again in your blog next time.


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