Overall, I like the concept and ideas of paperless classes, however, for the particular subject I teach (chemistry), the technology needed to accomplish this task is not yet cheap enough for public education. Before explaining the complications that go along with a paperless chemistry class, it is also important for me to state some of the benefits that have resulted from use of computers and digital technology.
Computers and digital technology (paperless entities) have allowed the concepts of chemistry to “come to life” in a much more realistic way, allowing people to see and understand concepts that never been accurately portrayed on paper. In fact, I wish these computerized molecular simulations were around when I studied chemistry – they would have made my life a lot easier!
And while some of these technologies have truly benefited the field of science, and this digital switch has made life much easier for professional chemists (companies with a lot of money), the software needed to create a “paperless” environment is still extremely pricy. Some of these expensive software and technologies include: molecular drawing kits, chemical equation software, digital reaction and mechanism software, and analytical chemistry software (spectrograph programs). In fact, I (the teacher) don’t have access to these softwares because I don’t have enough money in my school budget to purchase a license for just myself (not to mention a license package for students).
How Would Going Paperless Affect My Classroom?
Currently, my students have the option of both using paper, and not using paper. Some students take notes on paper, but I also post all of my material on the student portal for them to access anything they need. While some teachers require students to take notes, I do not, mostly because I feel that 17 year-olds can make that decision for themselves.
How My Role As a Teacher Might Change
I can see both advantages and some complications for going paperless in my classroom. One benefit would be that I would definitely use and assign more experiments and lessons that require a graphical analysis program (LoggerPro is similar to Microsoft Excel, but specific for science experiments). In addition, if I had access to the expensive softwares mentioned above, I would definitely use them as a resource for students over the resources I currently use (some are paper, but others are a hodgepodge of 3D visuals, etc.).
One complication I foresee if I changed all of my assignments to a paperless format is students lacking to show the work to their stoichiometric equations and problems (which is about 65% of the course). Without the chemistry software programs, it is very difficult to “write using the language of chemistry” (even many math programs, like Microsoft Equation Editor do not write in the language of “chemistry”). I am certain that students will not use basic software (like Microsoft Office, as I have) to show each step of their work because it is much too time consuming. As the teacher, if this situation occurs, I will then be: 1.) unable to determine exactly where a student has made a mistake in his/her thought process, and 2.) unable to award partial credit for the incorrect problems (which is something that saves a lot of students from failing an assignment).
In terms of actually measuring learning, I’m not sure if paperless assignment would drastically change my current format. In class, I grade students using rubrics for every type of work (I even break up the amount of points each problem is worth on a homework assignment), such as: homework, quizzes, tests, projects, laboratories, etc. While some of the criteria for these assignments may change to better accommodate a digital version, I still believe I would use rubrics to grade paperless assignments.
Building a Learning Network
Going “paperless” is basically a synonymous with “using more digital technology”. Digital technology enables the easy use of building networks through things like read/write web technologies and social bookmarking and network sites. So, I definitely think that this type of shift would make it easier for teachers and students to build a learning network, in addition to expanding existing networks to which they already belong.