As of late, I’ve been trying to use less paper and to encourage my students to do the same. I certainly have not become paperless, but I have eliminated a lot of my paper-useage. I would love to continue this trend and still am looking for some alternative options to go wholly paperless. I still collect some written homework, students still work with their hands, and I still find reading/editing on paper easier than digitally. Still, there are a few options for me.
Alternatives to “Hard Copy” Assignments
One, when possible, I ask students to post on the class blog as opposed to handing in an assignment. This is especially good for tasks that I would like them to share. This way, they can also easily add links, pictures, and even videos. It’s still not great for all assignments and requires internet access. Currently, my students do not have access to computers & the internet 100% of the time (we book computer lab time), so this generally requires some advanced planning (at least a few days). Also, a lot of my students do their homework on buses to/from extra-curricular activities (often not getting home until 9 or 10 pm). so, this is not always feasible. At my husband’s school, many students do not have computers at home.
However, I have found that this is a great activity so long as I plan ahead for the project. You can see some of my examples below:
This is still a work in progress for me. I’m finding things that work and others that do not work. Plus, I have some students that are very excited about it and others not as thrilled about the technology aspect.
Another great tool for students to hand in assignments is DropBox. I personally don’t like it when students email me their assignments as its so easy for it to get lost in my inbox. Plus, 47 assignments labeled “homework” is not remotely helpful. If I have them do a hand-in via DropBox, then I require that they save it in a particular format, e.g. “Homework57.Last Name.doc”. I have noticed that I must deduct points if they don’t save it properly, otherwise I get 47 DropBox files all labeled “Homework”. With projects, I will even have designed folders, see these AP Art History Assignments:
This is also a great way for students to share their assignments with one another (something I like them to do in Art History).
If you’re not familiar with DropBox, I highly recommend checking out my article: “DropBox – An Excellent and Free Resource for Educators.”
Alternative to Paper Hand-Outs
In all of my classes, I supplement with primary source readings, activities, work-sheets, whatever I feel a particular lesson calls for. I’ve started to distribute these in advance electronically and encourage my students, whenever possible, to not print it up – rather to access it electronically. This is not feasible for everyone, but the 70% with Smart-Phones use them in class.
Again, DropBox is a great tool for this – especially as many of the files I distribute are too large for email. I like to save them in PDF (Portable Document Format), and then I put them right into our “Shared” DropBox folder.
To access these, students have a few options. They can use a free PDF Reader like Adobe and then download, open, and print to bring to class. If they have a Smart Phone or a Tablet, they can download the free DropBox Application, download, and read electronically in class. If they would like to take notes on their electronic copy, they will need an application like PDF Reader Pro or iAnnotate. These will allow the user to highlight, make notes, and more.
Avoiding the Copying Machine
Perhaps the greatest arena of waste of paper is the copier. I’ve made too many copies, not enough, photocopied the wrong thing, dealt with mis-feeds, and seen so much paper thrown in the trash. Likewise, I’ve seen my students make a few dozen copies and then promptly toss them in the trash.
One solution for copies in the library is to encourage students to use their Smart Phones to take photos instead of make copies. There are several applications that will do this, my favorite are Genius Scan – PDF Scanner. This application will allow you to take pictures and convert them to PDF. It is specifically designed for use on documents, so it will focus and improve resolution to enhance text. Additionally, you can upload to DropBox or Evernote, email it to yourself, or simply store it on your device.
Not only great for my students, but I can use them in lieu of the copy machine myself.
These are only a few of the tools that I’m using. I’d love to hear others.