CET 726 Final: Summer 2007

Submitted by Lori Fox, Sue Mullin, Lori Rook

July 5, 2007

 

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The Paperless Community of Education

 

What would a paperless school look like? Is it even possible? If the copy machine were gone, a definite change in the nature of instruction would have to occur. Technology would have to be in place in the form of a laptop computer for each student or a PDA because access would be vital. The technology would also have to work a vast majority of the time. Teachers and students would be totally dependent on the Internet, textbooks on CD, and other technology resources.  As educators in the 21st century we are teaching in an era where technology is providing us with new tools and ever changing opportunities for learning in the classroom.  Technology has also been found to be a tool that provides motivation for students to keep them engaged in learning.

    The tools are available for the community of education to go paperless.  Information, activities and texts are available on line with the availability of continuous updates.  Assignments can be completed using various programs such as power point, word, imovie, etc.  A system for turning in this work must be developed and in place, such as a drop box on the server which only the teacher can access and then a way for students to retrieve their work. Otherwise, if students or the teachers print the electronic worksheets, presentations, etc. the system is no longer paperless. In our school district we have drop boxes that students can deliver their assignments.  Other instructors are using web resources such as WebCT , Quia, etc.  Assignments as well as tests are administered using these tools.  Our District could lead the way right now in a paperless environment by handing each teacher a DVD of the staff handbook, policies, standards, etc. Huge amounts of paper are used to print. Paperless tools are available, but getting all to use them for a paperless school is another story.

    One specific tool that has been developed around the idea of inquiry-based learning and technology is the exploration and designing of WebQuests.  As defined by Lacina (2007) a WebQuest is an inquiry-based technology activity in which most, or all, of the information used by the learners is drawn from the Web.  Teachers like WebQuests since their design is based on a constructivist philosophy, and because cooperative learning and scaffolding of instruction are two of its essential components.  In Lacina's (2007) article she lists the five essential components of a Webquest to be: the introduction, the task, the resources, the process and the evaluation.  More and more we are learning that students learning is more successful when they are collaborating with others.  Through the use of this tool we could begin to move away from the traditional teaching style that was based on a textbook.  One of the things that may be a drawback to a complete move to teaching without a textbook would be the time that would be involved with either finding a WebQuest that has already been developed that will fit in with the content standards that we are needing to meet.  If a WebQuest is not available that will work in our classroom then we would need to create a WebQuest to use with our students.  The creation of a WebQuest would take a considerable amount of time both in the research and compiling aspect of the lesson.  Another obstacle that we may face is the availability of computers so that students can access and complete the WebQuest.

    Another paperless technology tool is e-books.  In her article, Paperless Learning, Standen (2006) reports that physics and chemistry classes are turning to what could be called e-books which companies are developing as full, course-long, computer-based text "books" that require little more than access to a computer and, in some cases, regular Internet access.  The digital format allows students to interact with the material, conduct computer-based experiments, and move at their own speed.  The digital textbooks even automate homework, saving hours of grading time.

    The benefits of going paperless extend past the teacher and students in the classroom to the parents and community. A comprehensive Technology College of 1,600 pupils in Kent found benefits for students, teachers and parents.  First, the students have reported that they are more motivated when they are learning in this environment.   They have flexibility in when and where they access information and have more control over how and when they work. They are able to reach beyond the classroom and develop independent learning skills. If students are absent they can continue their learning from home. They can eliminate excuses such as “I forgot it, I lost it or the dog ate it.”. Extra support is provided outside normal school hours. Additional work can be given to students who are falling behind and need to catch up in some way.  Next, the teachers have found it actually saves time in the longer run by creating content that can be saved and reused and sharing lesson plans. They can track students’ results and reduce the amount of correcting they have to do.  It also allows teachers to develop curriculum, find resources, and plan their lessons, The tools allow teachers to set up the assignments to be corrected and managed both online and offline.  It also allows them to set work according to the individual abilities and needs of their students. Finally we have the parents and community who seem to be more involved in the learning process.  Parents are able to communicate quickly and easily and are able to keep in touch with the school as well as participate in their child’s learning.  Other members of the community have a means to become involved with the school community.  The web allows these people to communicate and be involved in the education process from almost anywhere in the world.  (Harris, 2004)

    The misgivings about going paperless are a result of our experiences using technology.  If something always goes “wrong” when you try to use technology you tend to be skeptical in using it. Farhad Jadali, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Technology at the University of Arkansas, uses diskettes to administer tests and quizzes because it is more reliable and available. (Oct. 1999)  Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught and are more comfortable doing so. Training teacher so they feel comfortable using paperless tools is key to the successful implementation of these technology tools.  Teachers have many demands placed upon them and find it difficult to find the time to search for tools that may make their life easier.  Availability of tools is another deterrent in using them.  In order for a school to go paperless, each student would need to have access to a laptop or some personal computing device.  Sharing limits the time of availability to each student.   The age and experience of the students will also effect a teacher’s decision to use technology instead of paper.  The younger the student, the harder it is for them to successfully search the web for appropriate sources to use.

    While teachers wouldn't be spending time at the copier, they would need staff development and planning time with support available to search for or develop learning activities for the students to access and/or download to their machine in order to work. At first in many cases, these activities would most likely be similar to a worksheet (an electronic worksheet with hyperlinks) rather than a WebQuest, PowerPoint or other similar activity.

    Continuous staff development, support, and mentoring (perhaps counseling?) would be necessary for all staff to make the adjustment to a paperless environment. There would be a great deal of resistance at first because all of the staff has grown up through an educational system that relied on paper, textbooks, etc. and are consequently "paper-trained." Even reading a text on-line could cause difficulties and challenges for staff, as well as, students. Another issue would be students and staff with vision difficulties. Going paperless, inherently makes the assumptions that students will do their reading and working on the computer or PDA. What about students with special needs or handicaps?

    According to Harris (2004) in order for a “paperless school” to be successful, teachers need to be able to evaluate the tools to determine if they can be incorporated into the curriculum of their school.  They will need to learn new skills to incorporate these tools in their teaching and to create online content and tutoring techniques as well as learn how to moderate online discussions.  All staff including support staff and librarians need to be included in training.  Teachers need to be able to count on reliable technical staff for assistance.  When all people within a school community are knowledgeable about the tools being used it will help to maintain a sense of continuity.  Having a plan and beginning small helps to make everyone comfortable with any changes that need to be incorporated.  Changes in teaching style may need to be made.  The activities that are available for teachers to use expand the learning of the students and the capabilities of the teachers.   Many teachers think about making their lessons more “real-life”  but have felt less than motivated with all the other demands on their time and requirements of meeting standards.  As teachers become more familiar with the tools to help them, the changes will come as well. As long as the students are learning and there is significant progress, the paperless school will continue to grow.

 

 

 

References:

 

Farhad, Jadali, (1999)  Tech directions, Prakken Publications, Inc.

    Retrieved June 28, 2007 from http://proquest.umi.com/pqd

web?did=47157242&sid=1&Fmt=4&clientId=188

65&RQT

 

Harris, Michael, (2004), What research says about virtual learning

environments in teaching and learning, Becta ITC Research

Network Inc., Retrieved June 28, 2007 from http://publica

tions.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=25797

 

Lacina, Jan, (2007). Inquiry-based learning and technology:

Designing and exploring webquests. Childhood Education.

Retrieved on June 29, 2007 from http://proquest.umi.com/

pqdweb?did=1275350681&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientld=25658&R

QT=309&VName=PQD

 

Standen, Amy, (2006) Paperless learning. Edutopia.org: The George

Lucas Education Foundation.  Retrieved on June 29, 2007 from

http://www.edutopia.org/node/2852

 

 

 

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