Friday, November 13, 2015

From Paper to Paperless to Paper?

I remember a time when educators on Twitter and other social media cheerleading paperless classes. I've been paperless for years without it being an explicit goal. Don't get me wrong, it does have some advantages. No longer do I have to worry about loosing a student's assignment or carrying a stack of papers during winter break. I'm even more grateful that I don't have to make photocopies before class or print out extras for students who loose their first copy. Similar to the  "real world," students can gather more materials on demand without needing a mediator. In many ways, going paperless has shifted responsibility over to students - missing a note sheet or handout, go online and get it yourself! 

I do worry about potential issues. If students can get more copies of handouts on their own, then what encourages them to keep track of the first version? When I was a student, I had to organize my papers and when I failed to be responsible, then I would have to face my teacher's disapproving expression. I wonder to what extent I'm enabling the students who could otherwise be organized.

The other issue is related to learning. The research is clear: students learn more effectively when they are writing on paper, rather than typing on a screen, and reading from paper than from a screen. The move to paperless is counter to the current data on memory and learning. I suppose the appropriate response is the sum total of human collective knowledge is readily accessible via mobile devices, at lighting fast speeds; therefore, education should shift from memorizing facts to higher order tasks - a fair response indeed. But I can't imagine these advocates would argue against students memorizing any facts. The question, rather, is how many facts ought to be memorized.

I tried this year to move back across the aisle to using paper. At the beginning of the year, I told students they had to print the video note sheets and hand write their notes. We also briefly talked about the research that supports this mandate. I also provided binders, free of cost, to students who wanted them. I have to admit that I haven't been enforcing this mandate. I have no idea how many students are taking handwritten notes. Guess it's time to find out.