Paperless Teaching

As one of the advisors to our school's Ecology Club, I am held to a higher standard.  Frequently, my students will chide me for "killing trees" when I pass out huge stacks of paper.  I try to scrimp wherever possible, using half- and even quarter-sheets and printing on both sides (my father loves to mock me for this; I do the same thing with our choir bulletin at church.)  And in my new Media Studies class, I took the radical step of e-mailing the readings as attachments so that the students could read them on their computers and print only if they wanted to, which may not have saved any net paper (most of them printed everything single-sided) but at least spared me the pain of looking at the whole stack at once.

But no matter how eco-friendly you are, there's always someone who can outdo you, and in this case it's Richard Wojewodski, a Baltimore teacher who has gone completely paperless.  This post will give you some insight into why he's done this; it's not all for environmental reasons, but because he thinks paper represents the past, a sort of static learning, while the future is represented in online collaboration.

I'm not sure I agree; I think the educational system's departure from traditional learning -- e.g. rote learning, memorization, basic skills -- was a colossal mistake.  I have juniors and seniors, honor students, who don't know their times tables.  They can solve a complex equation -- as long as they can use a calculator.  They can write a paper -- if they have a thesaurus to augment their vocabulary and SpellCheck to fix their errors.  And even within a computer, they rely on quick fixes instead of understanding the program.  They don't know how to center text, so they just hold down the space bar until it looks right.  (Oh, yes.  I've seen this multiple times.) So I think that the physical piece of paper is important in many cases, because it represents information they need to know, cold, no matter what, even if they have to work a little to memorize it.

It's also been proven that active reading, where you take notes and highlight the text, can help you remember information better than just passively reading it.  Not to mention, I think there's something to be said for the responsibility factor: having to remember to type it, format it, print it, staple it and bring it to class.

That said, though, I'm pretty jealous.  It must be wonderful to have such support (and funding, good God -- one computer for every single student) at your school.  Someday!