Going Paperless Isn't About the (Lack of) Paper

There is both excitement and criticism around the paperless classroom movement. Both camps have good intentions, but neither is focused on the right thing. It isn't about paper, or the lack of paper. It is about what the tech makes possible when learners push themselves to get creative.

For my students and I, "paperless" was not a hard and fast rule. It didn't mean that anyone was forbidden from using paper. It just meant that we explored all possibilities, including paper, when determining the best route. Most of the time, we found the best learning experiences occurred when we were collaborating, producing, and sharing using paperless means.

What Does "Paperless" Really Mean?

Paperless means better questions (Grant Wiggins style).

Paperless means less textbook and more open education resources (OER).

Paperless means learning activities (not lessons).

At the MassCUE 2015 conference this week I had the opportunity to share this model with a room full of energetic educators. My session opened with an explanation of the three steps above and then brought participants through a few examples, including the student product examples.

The last 15 minutes of the session were an opportunity for participants to dive into this learning model themselves. In this case, they took on the task of my 9th grade history class and use blackout poetry to determine if the majority of American colonists agreed with Thomas Paine's viewpoint in Common Sense on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Here are the results.

Click here to see Dan's tweet.

Click here to see the Instagram post.

It was thrilling to see educators respond to this lesson with as much intrigue and curiosity as my 14 and 15 year old students. Many were frustrated with the time constraints and wanted to finish their blackout poems despite our session coming to an end. When learners want to keep learning on their own, good stuff is happening.

What it Feels Like in the Classroom

As part of some work I have done with Smarter Schools Project, a video was released the same day as the MassCUE session. In the video I describe the look and feel of my paperless classroom for my students and I. It's short (I promise) and really conveys why I believe in this approach to learning.

Describing the way learning happens in my classroom as "paperless" makes it sound clean.
It is loud and messy.

"Paperless" makes it sound prohibitive.
It is liberating.

"Paperless" is an accurate description, but it is only the beginning.


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