How Paperless Schools are Transforming the Face of Learning

In his book “Beyond the paperless classroom,” David Doherty defines the relevance and practical implications of paperless learning in schools. According to David, the paperless environment has not just replaced the pen and paper with digital text. The learning place also gets transformed with 21st-century tools that enhance students’ innovation, creativity, engagement, motivation, and communication.

Paperless classrooms prepare learners to face 21st-century life. The digital instruction mode is deemed to be a mindful attempt to prepare and train learners for the upcoming paperless digital era. The expected result of paperless learning is improved learning outcomes and active participation of students. In addition to this, paperless classrooms are an eco-friendly option that saves trees from being cut down indiscriminately for making paper. Paperless classrooms can reduce unwanted littering of torn papers around the classrooms. Therefore, it is an excellent initiative toward conserving nature.

Educational experts advocate the concept of paperless classrooms due to its application and direct consequence of rapid technological development. It also directly influences contemporary social realities, making it necessary for the current educational scenario. Currently, notebooks and textbooks are widely used as primary tools for teaching and learning in many schools and universities worldwide.

In a paperless classroom, teachers and learners cannot use textbooks and notebooks for exchanging information. They can only use computers, laptops, iPad, and other technological devices offered by the institution. All the activities related to the educational program will be done electronically. Therefore, there is a complete dependence on electronic devices for carrying out learning activities. In such a paperless environment, the physical exchange of learning materials between the tutors and the learners is eliminated. The knowledge exchange takes place in a completely virtual environment.

Paperless School

Should schools go paperless?

The information age offers educators unprecedented opportunities to digitize the traditional classrooms and encourages them to empower knowledge dissemination channels. The question is should schools go paperless? Are they ready?

Have you ever imagined a classroom in your school without paper? At all? Paperless classrooms can revolutionize teaching. Going paperless completely has gained a lot of traction recently. But it’s not a surprise. Paperless schools are much better for the younger generation. It is also better for the environment and enhances technological integration.

There are several reasons why schools should go paperless. Let’s begin with the more typical reason – climate change. For one, climate change is real and is happening fast. Modern society is forced to find effective ways to get rid of the trash without destroying natural resources.

According to a recent survey in 2020, a teacher uses 25-75 pieces of paper per day for homework and study materials in America. This is a lot for a single school but imagine worldwide. Each year, schools use around 2000 pages per day. Typically, schools use 34 billion papers every year.

Therefore, when classrooms switch to paperless mode, it reduces paper waste, which has been a significant problem and saves energy spent on paper production, which reduces CO2 emission.

Moreover, when you go to any staffroom and ask a teacher what their biggest complaint is. You will more likely hear this standard answer that they spend too much time on paperwork and not spend enough time on actual teaching. Don’t you think it is time for schools to step into the digital world?

The transition from paper to paperless classrooms in the digital context

Students generally think of how to waste time in school. Do you agree with this statement? We all have been there and thought of ways to waste time as the session goes on. Students get easily bored when everything is taught on the blackboard as the learning is not engaging enough.

“The old model is really outdated. Students not only need content knowledge, but they [also] need [to learn the] 21st-century skills. They need to be self-directed in their learning,” says Grace Magley, director of digital learning at Natick Public Schools in Massachusetts. There is no denying that switching to a digital platform is the current trend in the world of education. Students can digitally access their assignments and study materials, research, and learn about topics online. They can also take standardized tests on a computer. Many educators and administrators agree that paper edtech is the best way to engage students and prepare them for the future.

The paperless administration is not necessarily an innovative step in schools. As Dr. Thomas Roedl, aka Tom Solid behind the #PaperlessMovement and founder of Paperless Movement, agrees, “students of today live in a saturated world of technology. When they can use time-saving apps and online search in their classrooms, they can act on the information learned, search for supplementary materials, and finish assignments more quickly as compared to traditional methods.” Previously, students needed to learn typing to enter keep up with the evolving workforce. Likewise, in the 21st century, students learn to navigate the web to participate in worldly activities in their communities.

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Given the necessity of going paperless, the question arises of how to make a smooth transition?

  • Well, the first step in creating a paperless classroom is to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure and necessary digital resources.
  • The second step is to ensure that the educators are knowledgeable in handling the web and other digital tools they use in class.
  • Moreover, the educators must first be comfortable with using digital tools for conducting classes.
  • Since many educators believe that going paperless increases students’ engagement and helps them prepare for the modern world, the best way to set up a paperless classroom is by adopting a Learning Management System (LMS).
  • Cost is always a significant factor in creating paperless administration. Therefore, many schools which opt for the digital platform tend to follow the 1:1 adoption plan.
  • The plan is to reduce costs and be economical significantly. For instance, tablets include built-in calculators, which eliminates the need to buy separate tools.
  • Going paperless doesn’t necessarily mean being digital in all aspects. Teachers can use whiteboards and laminated material for kids where they can write and erase. This will be exciting for children as they can be reused multiple times. Furthermore, children can still practice their handwriting skills without wasting piles of paper.
  • To make it much easier, schools can create standard classroom websites. The educator needs to be competent in providing technological instructions to the learners. This increases the efficiency of paperless school administrations.
  • Microsoft Classroom, Apple Classroom, Apple Schoolwork, Moodle, Blackboard Learn, and Google Classroom are some of the popular and commonly adopted learning management solutions.
  • Out of these LMS, Blackboard and Moodle are more popular among educators. It is because Moodle offers simple features for all teaching activities. The classroom website creation can be set up easily using a template.
  • Many teachers also use Google Classroom as it is user-friendly.
  • Many educators also opt for Open-Source Course Builder (OSCB), which helps them to set up customized platforms as per their requirements.
  • You can tie the paper-reduction advantages with the lesson plans when you implement these tools. Some teachers explain how going paperless has helped the environment. It is said that when people reduce paper usage by 1 ton annually, they can save around 24 mature trees. 13 million hectares of forest land disappear each year, and 2% of Amazon forests are cut down. This has an adverse effect on the ecology and the environment. This makes students understand the importance of preserving ecological resources and teaches them to use less paper at home.
  • In the beginning, have paperless administration as an option. This makes the transition smoother. Instead of creating a blanket policy to go paperless, consider a triage approach. In this way, the teachers can have more control over reducing paper usage than what the administration thinks they can cut.
  • When used in moderation, the kids learning from screens have potential advantages where they break the literal barrier between them and the instructor. So, when the schools go paperless, it is not just as simple as digital learning. It diversifies the learning opportunities.

The Benefits of Paperless Environment

There are several benefits of a paperless environment that apply to both students and teachers. When the iPad was launched in 2010, it opened new opportunities for learning through tablets and computers, which encouraged classes to go paperless. The following are some of the reasons to go paperless.

Environmental benefits

On average, K-12 schools spend around $50,000 per year on paper and ink alone for printing and copying. That is a lot! Schools can reduce these expenses drastically by tracking and limiting paper usage. This hurts the environment in the name of paper manufacturing – cutting trees, deforestation, and depleting ecological balance. This is one of the main reasons to go paperless as it benefits the environment.

Effortless changeover

Going paperless can be effective when it comes to managing academic materials. The changeover from books to iPads can be pretty smooth as your institution doesn’t need to print study materials. When you go paperless, you can save and access all the learning material from a single point where it can be edited and printed as and when needed.

Since teachers complain that they spend much time on paperwork and not much time on actual teaching, when there is no need for printing study materials and assignments, teachers save a surplus amount of their precious time. A single seamless process replaces the traditional method of paper evaluation.

For instance, the language and numerical learning classes are turned into an interactive experience using a PDF annotation app. These tools help students to draw, add text, and highlight critical sections. These changes and annotations made to the document can be kept track of easily. All these documents can be stored in the cloud, which eliminates the physical storage of documents. The documents can also be changed to different formats to be safely stored and read through various apps.

Students are more likely to engage in a paperless classroom when there is an interactive session. Since all the lessons would be shown digitally, students will understand the concepts much better compared to traditional blackboard teaching. Improved engagement is one of the biggest and most significant impacts of a paperless learning experience.

Enhanced materials

The visual appeal of the learning material is enhanced in a paperless learning environment. The handouts and study topics are meticulously designed on computers such as to eliminate monochrome and be engaging. Traditional paper materials can get lost and misplaced, and sometimes the quality may not be visually appealing.

Multiple people can be using the same resources at the same time. For instance, when you have only one set of encyclopedias in your history classroom, and everyone is looking for specific information. Students need to find information about the United States. Not every student can access the data simultaneously with only one book available. Whereas, if you have internet access, then all students can use the encyclopedia at the same time to research information about the United States.

Assignments & Collaboration

If the teacher forgets to give assignments during the session, they can be assigned even after class. Moreover, students can submit their projects online. Since teachers can find it in a single location, there is no need to worry about students misplacing it. The best part is you can limit excuses for not submitting the assignment. No worries about the family dog eating the assignment, running out of ink, running out of papers for the printer! Moreover, students cannot forget the project as teachers can send multiple reminders regularly.

When the assignment involves research, students can work together to share their ideas. Collaboration is improved as well as communication is also enhanced. For instance, a discussion forum can help students to discuss and share knowledge related to a problem. This would allow all students – those who posted the question and those who discussed and provided their guidance. Collaborating in groups can make the project more uncomplicated, and the students can be able to complete it from a location of their choice.

Feedback & Self-Assessment

Students can quickly review their work. When assignments such as writing a journal article or a scientific review are done over a period, the students can evaluate themselves and locate possible areas of improvement. They can then also find areas where they reached proficiency in their work.

Both students and teachers can provide feedback on the created works. Since the result is stored in the cloud, it can be reviewed multiple times at the same time. Moreover, the input can be provided instantly, which helps students not to wait until the next class or a week to know the results of their work. These instant feedbacks help students to come prepared through self-assessment and identify what changes can be made.

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Relation between paperless classrooms and employability in the 21st century

Empowering learners through the digital mode of education and educational resources can have a revolutionary impact on their careers. Research studies show that younger students are more enthusiastic about adopting technological learning tools than senior students. Since paperless classrooms are learner-centric, their knowledge is enhanced by peer collaboration and interaction. This is an essential skill to be developed to face the 21st-century job market. Students also acquire numerous digital skills from a paperless classroom. They develop real-life skills such as collaboration with peers, research, and self-learning. Such learning. Moreover, a paperless classroom becomes the real-life training ground for these students and prepares them for future life and career.

This is because many businesses look for gathering information through teamwork, project implementation, and telecommunication as a part of their emerging corporate work culture. In recent years, e-business has transformed the nature of work culture in many businesses. This has made the new corporate culture have faster target achievements with timely business implementation than just the physical presence of the employees.

A paperless classroom is crucial for the learners as they have easy access to knowledge on skill developments because of the flexibility in the use of technology. In addition to this, the acquired knowledge can be stored and retrieved efficiently by a proper information management system from a single portable digital device. Therefore, it has the potential to bridge the learner’s gap between theoretical and practical knowledge and make them successful in their fields.

Why should schools not go paperless?

Despite the many benefits, there are some disadvantages of going paperless in schools.

  • Going paperless means becoming entirely digital and it comprises learning curves. Tablets, laptops, and smartphones will replace the traditional means of paper. But these gadgets will need some extra knowledge to operate. Therefore, teachers and students should be trained before handing them the digital tools to keep up the learning pace. Some teachers find it hard to set up classes on the students’ iPads which takes class hours. This needs some initial training as teachers are not IT techies. Some schools offer three-hour long sessions to work with the class materials on their devices. Similar training is given to students as well to complete assignments of notability.
  • Though iPads are convenient for downloading and storing study materials, there are issues such as Wi-Fi and storage. The 16 GB memory may not be sufficient for storing four years of university study materials. There are options such as Dropbox and other cloud services which require students and teachers to sign up for accounts. Sometimes, students fail to upload the content from devices to the cloud, which leads to the mismanagement of information.
  • Have you faced implementation issues? Wi-Fi and connect ability issues persist with the digital devices in the paperless classroom. This is due to the influx of devices being used at once, which an upgrade can fix. Therefore, learning institutions should provide Wi-Fi and internet connectivity based on the volume of users.
  • Lack of financial resources and infrastructure. The new technologies can be pretty expensive, and the school’s administration needs to be aware of them and plan accordingly.
  • Though it improves social skills and employability skills, the 1-on-1 face-to-face interaction is drastically reduced in order to activate effective learning. Furthermore, learners with special needs need individual supervision and interaction to prepare them for using digital tools. When it is already a struggle for those students, digital literacy tools might be a little challenging.

Finally, as David Doherty said, paperless learning not just replaces pen and paper with digital text, but it is a place with enhanced digital tools to improve learners’ skills for the 21st century, and it starts from the classroom. Modern-day technologies are rapidly altering the traditional forms of education with the way of automation. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) in the U.S educational sector is expected to reach around $85 million by the end of 2022. Gadgets in paperless classrooms are becoming the new normal in students’ day-to-day lives.

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