The “paperless classroom” is a buzzword that flies around education and edtech discussions a lot. It’s for good reason, too.
A paperless classroom can …
- promote discussions at any time in any place.
- bring in information, perspectives and experiences from all over the world.
- give classrooms great efficiency.
- boost the creativity factor in new ways.
- help students become creators instead of just consumers
However, this all only happens when the paperless push happens in a meaningful, purposeful way. Sometimes, teachers, administrators and school district leaders will push technology for the sake of technology. That’s to the detriment of the schools, teachers and, ultimately, the students.
For well-meaning teachers, administrators and leaders who want to do it the right way, the questions is often “How?”
We may know some tools in our digital toolbox. We may know that there’s power in harnessing technology in education. We may even have some great activities that use tech to help bring out the best in our students.
But to create that real, meaningful, purposeful digital dynamic in the classroom, it’s helpful to have a framework.
Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler / AliceKeeler.com) and I are co-writing a book called “Ditch That Homework” about how to break our fixation on meaningless, ineffective homework and replace them with solid pedagogical strategies. (Click here to join our free VIP Club to get updates and submit your own ideas to possibly be included in the book!)
Technology isn’t the silver bullet to our homework problem. (In fact, as Alice and I discuss and look into the homework issue, it’s more and more apparent that it’s a multi-faceted issue with no easy answers.)
However, technology can unlock great, effective, engaging learning. And when that happens, the need for at-home practice is diminished.
Alice and I brainstormed a framework for making the transition to digital activities, digital teaching and learning … a more digital classroom.
Here’s what we came up with:
1. Communicate. Giving directions in person in class has been somewhat ineffective for years. Students forget. Or they write them down incorrectly. Having those directions available online, through a class website, Google Classroom or a learning management system is a solid step in the right direction.
Also, there’s a distinction between putting materials online and having the tasks live there. Uploading the same files and same activities as before going digital doesn’t change the task. It’s the same assignment. The same experience. Going digital without transforming learning leads to an “expensive pencil” mentality. If you did it before with paper and pencil, why use expensive technology to do the same task?
2. Ask. Meaningful technology use requires us to ask some key questions of ourselves:
- “Does this make learning better?” It sounds simple, but this step is often overlooked or brushed aside. If learning doesn’t improve based on changes we make, we should go back to the drawing board. (I’d even say if learning is the same after making change, it isn’t worth making the change. Learning must improve.)
- “Will students be engaged in this task?” Some will argue that it isn’t our job to engage students. They’ll call it “entertainment” instead of engagement. It’s quite the opposite. Why have many students dreaded going to school for years? Because it didn’t interest them. If students are bored and aren’t paying attention, teachers might as well not teach. The disengaged student might as well not be in the classroom. Because that student isn’t learning anything, despite what the teacher is doing. Engagement is key to deep learning. If we can strive to achieve true engagement, we’ll eliminate our perceived need for excessive homework.
3. Interact. When I started teaching, I was isolated. I was the only teacher of my subject matter in my school. I craved other like-minded educators to collaborate with. Today, we don’t have to be alone. And we don’t have to be the sole creator of new ideas and new resources. We can borrow ideas and activities and units from others. We can put our own twist on them. Customize them for our students’ unique needs. And if we struggle, we can reach out to others for support or help.
4. Iterate. The education system is like a barge. It’s slow to move. Slow to change. Takes forever for significant evolution to take place. However, if education is like a barge, classrooms are like jet skis. They’re nimble. Turn on a dime. If something fails, teachers can learn from it quickly and make necessary changes immediately. Because we have that flexibility, we can be confident in trying new ideas, even if they don’t work perfectly at first. Plus, students will appreciate our willingness to try something different.
5. Collaborate. A great digital activity (or digitally-rich classroom) doesn’t force students to work in isolation. For years, students have worked silently on their own. At their own desks. The best companies don’t force their great thinkers and doers to do that. Google didn’t force one employee to imagine and code its greatest products. We’re better together, as teachers and as students. Teamwork is — and will continue to be — a crucial workforce skill. So many digital tools let students work in shared spaces to create a product that’s better than they could create on their own.
6. Feedback. One of the fatal flaws of homework is the feedback loop. With traditional homework, students do an assignment and turn it in. Even when the teacher grades it that evening and returns it the next day, students are often disinterested. They’re not in that moment of cognitively wrestling with the problems or concepts in the activity anymore. “That’s so yesterday!” they would probably say. If we can provide timely, in-the-moment feedback, they’re more likely to internalize that. We can use comments in Google Apps and tools like Formative and game show-style review games to provide feedback in the moment of need.
[reminder]How can you use any combination of these steps to create meaningful digitally-rich learning experiences for students? Are there any concepts you would add to the list?[/reminder]
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