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Innovation

Why aren't students pushing paperless?

Why aren't our students driving us towards the paperless ideal? A pat answer would be that we simply haven't enabled them to work without paper. However, I think the real answer is quite a bit more complicated than that.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Are there any students out there who aren't connected to the Web all the time? They have iPhones, Droids, and Pres. They have netbooks, notebooks, and desktops. WiFi is ubiquitous, mobile broadband is increasingly common, and these little Digital Natives still print like there's no tomorrow.

Sure, we can impose print quotas, we can train them to cut and past web content into a word processor before they print, and we can generally reduce their paper consumption. But why are they printing in the first place? Why aren't our students driving us towards the paperless ideal? A pat answer would be that we simply haven't enabled them to work without paper or that we haven't created a culture that encourages work in a paper-free environment. However, I think the real answer is quite a bit more complicated than that.

We haven't really "enabled" our students to conduct most of their communications via text and social media. We haven't taught them to use these tools and, in fact, in many situations we actively discourage their use. We haven't encouraged them to download their music for free, but countless students have hard drives and iPods full of pirated music.

True, many institutional barriers still exist to paperlessness (yes, that is a word; you just read it on the Internet, so it must be). Instructors who don't accept work electronically or who still encourage outdated styles of editing and revision on paper don't help the cause. But learning management systems like Moodle make these barriers increasingly rare.

It's also true that plenty of progressive organizations exist that are moving in a "less paper" direction. Far more organizations just don't. Several teachers asked me the other day to have dedicated printers in their rooms (we were talking wishlists during a professional development session). Why? Because students want to print out their work and teachers find it easier to manage on paper.

Obviously, this is a two-sided problem. I just don't understand, though, why students who are so utterly willing to conduct their every social move via FaceBook wouldn't demand that schools follow suit and use the vast array of technology at our fingertips to create workflows that would prevent them from turning in work on paper. Why must they print their web research and database reference materials when they can just create electronic documents with clips and notes?

There just seems to be a real disconnect between the paperless lives students lead outside of school and the "paperful" lives they lead in school.

For my part, I'll be working to create an environment this year that practically begs students and teachers to go paperless. Increased use of Google Apps, Joomla for easily posting content, Moodle for managing in-class workflows, and more work for students on actually synthesizing their online research into worthwhile notes on the fly can all make for a less physical resource-intensive experience.

How are you making your schools and classrooms greener with technology? And students, please talk back below - What is the draw of paper?

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