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The Possibilities of the Paperless Classroom

  • November 24, 2015|
  • 3 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

Technology is quickly becoming a pivotal part of the education environment, and most classrooms aspire to go beyond the capabilities of analog solutions, including paper. The ambitious goal of a paperless classroom evokes many questions: What are the benefits? How do we start? What say the naysayers?

Benefits and Resources

When implemented strategically and completely, going paperless enables school districts to uncover cost savings and reduce record management complexities. Unlike paper, electronic systems give ready access to parents, teachers, school administrators, and more, allowing districts to more aptly address the 24/7 nature of today’s educational environment.

Digital platforms also allow for broader access to content, making it easier to aggregate ideas and manage tasks. With the web, archival tools, and mobile device integration, communication becomes a lot more fluid. In addition, we’re not constrained to keyboard-enabled content. Digital pens give students the ability to sync what’s written to their phone or tablet, including dynamic recording of the content creation – creating a whole new way for students to organize notes and review material.

Most importantly, paperless invites collaboration. Digital content enables project work and teamwork that is easier to execute – students can continue discussions, exchange ideas, share notes, and draft documents together outside of the confines of the classroom. Teachers can even streamline content management, student feedback, and assessment. The web has become the new platform for meaningful interaction. By untethering knowledge and information from paper, we create new opportunities for collaboration and information access.

Where to Start and What to Anticipate

Even with noted benefits for the classroom and beyond, the administrative system for a paperless education environment is very daunting. So where should you start? Ian Llado, Senior Account Manager for Higher Education at Optical Image Technology, Inc. (OIT) in State College, Pennsylvania, wrote some recommendations for SEEN magazine earlier this year. Overall, Llado emphasizes the importance of process analysis, change management, and software agility. How are you currently processing information?

“Chart paths that illustrate how information flows throughout your district. Determine ways in which content can be re-purposed. Implement an improvement plan complete with a timeline, metrics, and clearly defined goals.”

Most schools still use paper heavily on a day-to-day basis, meaning that the change to paperless could easily be met with apprehension. To handle the unknown as smoothly as possible, Llado recommends leaders:

· “Assess change readiness”
· “Communicate the reasons for change”
· “Enlist feedback”
· “Reveal how changes will affect employees”
· “Manage resistance”


Of course, paper cannot be left behind without challenges. Going paperless presents hurdles that will test users as they shift to a digitally driven education environment. Among them is willingness – depending on familiarity, comfort, and desire to use digital tools, it could be a challenge for certain constituents to embrace technology in a way that improves upon the hard copy processes to which they’ve become accustomed.

A newfound focus on technology makes the issue of accessibility more important than ever. While technology is widely available, it’s not available to everyone, at every moment. Educators can’t guarantee that all students will have reliable access to technology outside of the classroom. In addition, some studies emphasize benefits of learning aided by traditional tools (pens) versus the keyboard. In “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard, Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” psychologists at the University of California noted that

“…students who took class notes by hand remembered and applied concepts considerably better than those who took notes by computer. The studies showed that handwritten notes worked better not only for testing purposes but for longer term retention.”

As we look for solutions to displace paper, we should look to technology that does not leave traditional input methods lost in translation. Transforming technology should not have to mean sacrificing what already works. With the shift to touch-centric devices, students can still leverage the benefits highlighted in the report by using digital pen solutions, simultaneously harnessing the enhancements enabled in a paperless environment.

What Do Parents Think?

Parents, aside from students, represent the largest constituency in education, and any solution must address their opinions and concerns. Adrienne Hill recently reported for Marketplace, detailing some findings regarding parents and technology:

“In a national, online survey of parents of kids in grades 3 through 12 conducted by Lieberman Research Worldwide, ‘Parents’ Attitudes Toward Educational Technology,’ we found parents feel good about the growing use of technology in education, and most think it is improving the quality of education for their children.”

A paperless educational environment has tremendous potential to empower educators and students through more seamless collaboration, access, and coordination. But, as illustrated, the path to paperless will not be without difficulties. As educators and administrators consider their next move, it’s important to build a strategic plan with numerous opportunities for evaluation and course correction. It’s not necessarily about the knowledge, it’s about using that knowledge to make informed decisions, build on insights, and craft a strategic vision.

Reference Articles:

1.“3 Essential Components to a Successful District-Wide Transition to Paperless Processing” SEEN Magazine. April 23 2015.
2.“5 Ultra-Cool Apps for Running a Paperless Classroom” iCEV. August 2015.
3.“Exclusive survey: Parents weigh in on the digital classroom” Marketplace. May 15 2015.