In past semesters my students used about 20 pieces of paper (minimum) to complete their research projects. That’s not a lot, but when you multiply that by 40 students you have 800 pieces of paper (minimum) consumed each semester. With the costs of printing added in, I decided to try out a paperless classroom. I should admit a selfish reason as well. Every time I’ve gotten a stack of papers to grade I’ve found myself having to jump over a hurdle to get them graded because there are just SO MANY. With the paperless approach, I thought I might be able to minimize the psychological terror.
Primarily I wanted to reduce the use of paper for the research project, which in the past has consumed an enormous amount. The project has four parts:
- An annotation exercise where the students read three articles and write annotations and citations for each. The purpose is to help them understand the citation style we use (APSR) and how to write an annotation before they do an annotated bibliography. This is on average 3 pages.
- An annotated bibliography in which students write a short description of their topic and annotate 7 (will reduce this to 5) articles on a research topic. They are given guidelines on the types of sources they can use and are expected to have a good variety. This is on average 5 pages.
- The research paper with works cited. The page minimum is 5 with a maximum of 7 not including the bibliography.
- An optional revision of the research paper. I will be making this required next semester.
I also had them turn in weekly news summaries (about 250 words each) through email rather than in person. I tried using the Blackboard discussion group but had issues with plagiarism. If you are interested in this assignment, let me know because I handled it a bit differently.
My guidelines for turning in assignments were relatively simple: Times New Roman, 12-point font, Microsoft Word format, and email it to me by the deadline. I didn’t use Blackboard’s Dropbox because I wanted to make it as simple as possible. After the deadline I would email the students who didn’t turn in something and notify them that they would start losing points. This way I could find out if any thought they had turned it in, but for some reason it didn’t come through. This happened only once and the student had a time stamped email. The message went to my junk mail for some reason.
To grade, I would first submit all of the papers to SafeAssign in Blackboard to check on plagiarism. Pretty handy tool! The next part was slightly time intensive and I may need to change it. I would add my rubric to each Word doc and then save as a PDF file. This way I would have both the original and a version that could be marked up using an iPad app called iAnnotate and I could write on the PDFs using my handy little iPad stylus. You could also use track changes and the comment function in Word. Either way would work.
I would then email the students back with the PDF, which included a rubric and their score, and post their grade in Blackboard Grade Center.
What would I do differently next semester? First, I would give the students more specific guidelines for turning in their assignments. While not all students will read those guidelines, at least I could point to them and say, “Do it like this!” Or just grade them down when they don’t. So, for instance I would probably tell them to name their emails a specific way so that I could create an email filter on gmail. Something like PSC 240 and their name would work. I would ask that they use their last name for the file name, which is what I change it to anyway.
Second, I would probably only use the iAnnotate on my iPad for the research paper and not for the other steps. The comment functions in Word work nicely and suffice without the extra step of saving it as a PDF and pulling up in iAnnotate.
Finally, I will demonstrate in class how I will be grading their assignments. I had a lot of students who were unfamiliar with the comment function in Word and couldn’t understand how to see them. Also several tried to see my comments using Google Docs or on their phones and they couldn’t see anything. The nice thing about converting the docs to PDF is that the students could see the comments on an iPad theoretically depending on which viewer they were using. But I need to at least let them know that they might need to look at the doc from a laptop or desktop and use the native Adobe Reader.
I was surprised by two things this semester. First, the number of students in my class who were using tablets. Last semester I only had one student using a tablet (although several would pull up documents on their phones), but this semester I saw at least 6 or 7 using a tablet of some kind in the semester and at least 10 would use their phones to pull up class documents (And yes, they were pulling up class documents). I want to think more on how I can build on their tech use in the classroom, but I’m not sure the tech is widespread enough at UNCG. The second surprising thing was the number of students who had never used the comment function in Word or Adobe before. I had a student tell me I was high tech after I gave back their first assignment. It was flattering, but at the same time you can see the challenge of the digital literacy divide in our own students.
I say my classroom was almost paperless because we had written exams that were administered on paper and the students answered in blue books. I also gave quizzes and one minutes that were not paperless. I could have them email me their one minute papers next semester (they would still need to do it in class, but by email instead of paper), but I’m not 100% sure about that method yet.
If you are interested in trying out a paperless classroom, I would read some of these posts from Professor Hacker: Grading with Voice on an iPad, Mark Up PDFs on Your iPad: iAnnotate PDF, Going Paperless on a Mac. There is also this great Diigo list of links on the paperless classroom. I read as much as I could before trying it. Also, Steve Katz is a tech consultant for secondary schools and has a great Prezi on the paperless classroom. It is also one of the best designed Prezis I’ve ever seen. Really gorgeous technique.
So, that was my big teaching change this semester. Thoughts? Have you attempted a paperless classroom? What did you do or would you do differently?