The Need to Go Paperless

I subscribe to the blog Teach Paperless, which I enjoy,  and another blog I read,  Learning is Change, had a post in it about the same topic.    So,  I feel the need for a post about paperless schools coming on.

The question of whether to go paperless in today’s schools tends to generate arguments constructed out of fear than out of thoughtful, substantive analysis.

Our schools have an ethical, fiscal, and environmental responsibility to go paperless.  Detractors of the paperless classroom will submit that students, for health and wellness reasons, need to read and write on paper, read paper books, and draw up posters on large sheets of paper.  They will also tell you that the technology is too costly, and that with the advent of computers, the consumption of paper has continued to grow, thus negating any environmental benefits they may have promised.  These are all short-sighted arguments that ignore the needs of our students, the hidden costs of paper, and the many factors at play in the paper-consumption dynamic.

First, we must do what is right for our students.  Leaving the digital native card aside, it is safe to assert that technology tools allow for the kind of innovative teaching and learning that is simply not feasible, or even physically possible, in a paper-based classroom.  Whatever learning strategies were offered through paper are easily duplicated, even improved upon, in a digital classroom. The inverse is most certainly not true.  For example, moving from paper-based portfolios to online e-portfolios gives these theoretical waste-bins of student work a soul, providing students with more ownership, exposure, and continuity to their learning goals and artifacts.  Social technology and media production tools make so-called “utopian” education ideas a reality; none of them require paper, but together they support the  teaching of reading, writing, collaboration, fluency, technical literacy, social responsibility, critical thinking, problem solving, and cultural awareness .   These are the skills that current and future generations must master to solve our 20th century problems.  From this vantage point,  it is actually unethical practice to educate students in a paper-based classroom.

If ethics doesn’t sway you,  perhaps cost will.  Have you ever stopped to ask how much paper a typical paper-based teacher generates for all their students?   Printer cartridges are expensive and all that paper that gets consumed and thrown out at dizzying rates is not cheap either.   A common argument in support of this is that the computing has made paper consumption greater, not less.

What is interesting is that paper consumption in the U.S. per capita has actually been falling since the mid 1990′s.  We’ve experienced a bit of a transition period where institutions purchased both computers and gobs of paper to go through their expensive copy machines and printers.  It is feasible now to have devices like PC tablets or slates like the iPad that virtually eliminate the need for any type of paper sharing.    So,  since we are purchasing expensive computers anyway,  it is vital that we eliminate the redundant cost and environmental impact of paper and try our best to teach paperless.


2 Comments to "The Need to Go Paperless"

  1. December 9, 2010 - 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for reading (and linking to) my blog. I think this topic is so important and I am glad that you have gone about it in a methodical way. I don’t think that very many people will be able to argue your point on wanting to go paperless at school, but I do think it is hard for those folks who are used to assessments being based on paper and handouts not being available in the cloud. It may take a bit of time, but we are definitely moving in the right direction.

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