Many things have changed over the past twenty years. We used to listen to music on our shiny new CD's, now we listen to music with a digital device and some children don't even know what a CD is. Twenty years ago we went to the video store to rent a VHS (or Beta) video so we could go home and watch it on our awesome 24" screen. Now we just rent movies through our Apple TV, Roku or Netflix to watch in on many different devices. Twenty years ago, when kids wanted to go out, they went home to ask permission or went to a friends house to make a phone call, now kids just send a txt. Twenty years ago teachers would carry home all of these pieces of paper to grade. Now...teachers carry home all of these pieces of paper to grade. What happened? How did the world move forward while we in education seem to be in some sort of time warp (not the fun one with the dance moves)? This article will help those who want to break free of the time warp and move toward a paperless classroom. It will also be useful to those who like to keep current on some great tools that can be helpful in maintaining a modern learning environment.
First, let's define a paperless classroom. When I talk about a paperless classroom, I am not talking turing paper assignments into pdf files so kids can fill them out on a screen. I am talking about a learning environment where students and teachers use technology in order to communicate, investigate, theorize, test, collaborate, create and I think you get the idea. I am talking about a truly modern classroom, and guess what...sometimes that does include paper. Use paper when necessary and appropriate and not an instance more. Okay, enough rambling, let's look at some great paperless tools.
HardwareThe first thing you need is something to work on. A laptop or desktop will do nicely, or you can use any one of the mobile devices available today. Personally, I tend to go for the mobile device, they are smaller, easier to carry around and are just plain fun to work with. Outside of the iPad (my personal favorite) some other tablets are: Google Nexus, Asus Transformer Pad, Samsung Tablet and the new kid on the block the Amplify Tablet. Don't just pick any tablet that can use online collaboration tools such as Google Drive or Zoho. Can the device record audio, video and still images? Can it annotate pdf files? Can you edit video? A modern classroom is more than research and writing papers, it's about passion and exploration. It's about critical and creative thinking and making new things. Pick the right hardware for reaching your goals.
Software/AppsYes....there's an app for that. One very important thing to consider when selecting hardware is the software that will work with it. Is there software (or apps) that will allow the user to do what needs to be done. Maybe the device is powerful enough to edit video, but the software is cumbersome and difficult to use. If the software isn't user friendly, you have a hugh problem on your hands. Let's not forget about the more mundane projects that are really important in the life of a student. A good pdf annotator or journaling app can make a world of difference in the classroom. There's no point in finding free apps if they aren't user friendly or don't accomplish your goals. You will find some of my favorite educational iPad apps listed on the mobile apps page of my website.
Online ServicesThere are a lot of ways for students to share digital files with educators. One way is through an online application system such as Google Apps or Zoho. Both of these services are great and allow for file sharing. In my experience though, it is sometimes better to use a Learning Management System (LMS) instead. A LMS will not only allow students to share files back and forth with the educators, a good LMS will streamline a lot of the tedious work for the educator, leaving him/her more time to create quality learning experiences for students. (See my recent post on this topic here) It will also allow an educator (and students) to organize information and share a wide variety of resources under one "roof". For example, several Google Documents, YouTube videos, websites and audio files can all be stored in folders organized by topic, date or type. All the necessary files for a lesson or unit can be stored in a single folder or "collection". A similar result can be accomplished using Google Apps (including Google Sites), but I find a LMS to be easier to use in that type of situation.
Digital Quizzes/TestsGiving quizzes and tests online can be a great way to remove paper from a classroom. Online quizzes can be at least partially graded by the computer (non essay questions) leaving the educator with the results and data without the work ofgrading. Some online quizzes will export to excel (can we say grade book integration?) and some give students instant feedback so they don't have to wait for the educator to take the papers home and grade them. Many online quizzes can have times when they are visible to the students and can shuffle the questions and answer options. If you like the idea of online quizzes and grade book integration, you should check out Schoology. It has a nice quizzing module that talks directly to the grade book. Other nice online quiz options include: Quizlet, Quiz Star and Quiz Egg.
VideoAny truly modern classroom is going to include video of some sort from somewhere. There are video sources for schools such as Khan Academy or IXL. Educators that are so inclined to make their own videos, have a variety of tools available to them that varies according to the hardware available (see how some things go back to hardware?). Let's not overlook the YouTube option. Some people get nervous when you talk about putting videos on YouTube or students putting videos on YouTube, but there are things you can do to keep videos out of the "public eye". If you are interested in using video or doing a flip classroom concept, you can find more information about flip and videos (including flip classroom apps for the iPad) on the Mobile Learning - Flip Classroom page of my website.
And a pinch to grow an inch....
VisionI am not talking about the superhero (don't worry if you don't know him, he's not that popular). I am talking about a vision for your classroom. A classroom without a vision is like a sailing ship without a sail or a kite without a string. You can get lost and/or things can get away from you very quickly. Like with any environment, there needs to be direction. People like direction (that's why we have GPS and cool looking maps). Before embarking on a modern 21st century classroom, stop, breathe and make a plan. A flexible plan, but it should still be a plan. Below are a list of sites that may help you with your paperless classroom plan. If you have any questions or would like some advice about implementing a paperless classroom, feel free to contact me through the Contact Randy page of my website.
Inside the Classroom, Outside the Box
Using Google Docs to go Paperless