I’m going back to paper AND staying digital

Our digital stuff is searchable. We can create and collaborate with digital. But paper is a viable option, too. They can both co-exist. (Photo by Matt Miller)

As a teacher, I went all-in on being as digital as possible years ago.

I made the “I’m going totally paperless” statement like so many well-meaning teachers.

I had my best-laid plans ready to go. There were glitches and road bumps, but my class was becoming more and more digital.

But something was missing. A “hole in my soul” teaching-wise, so to speak. (At least that’s how I’d like to think Steven Tyler would describe it.)

(Fun side note: Didn’t realize until just now that the music video for the aforelinked song is set in a high school. Not Aerosmith’s best song or music video, but it all seems to fit together! Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post …)

I even had a student tell me once, “Mr. Miller, I like being creative. I just don’t always want to be ‘computer creative.’” Whoa. Wake-up call.

What was missing?

For me, it was paper. Tactile learning experiences.

Doing things in real life.

As humans, there’s a lot we can do in the digital space. But when we neglect real life too much, I believe we’re less than we were intended to be.

There’s still value in the touch of a crisp sheet of paper. The smell of a new book when you flip the pages. (Maybe not a textbook, though … let’s not cross that line. 🙂 )

That’s why I’m going back to paper — for some things. But I’m still staying digital.

The benefits of paper

Paper is tangible. You can feel the grain of the paper with your fingers.

You can lay dozens of sticky notes out on a table and read any one of them at once.

Paper won’t crash on you. It doesn’t have good or bad battery life because it has no batteries.

You can see paper in an instant when it’s on the wall or on your computer monitor.

Research shows learning benefits in writing by hand. It creates unique circuits in the brain that can be stronger. Plus, children’s brain activity is more enhanced when they write by hand.

I wrote about some of that research and how it impacted the classroom in this post.

The benefits of digital

I still love using technology for cataloging and archiving my work — mainly because it’s searchable. I love being able to find a document in a moment’s notice with a well-worded Google Drive search.

Google Keep and Google Drive still organize my work much better than I ever have.

The camera.

My technology is better at annotating than I am. If I take a picture or a screenshot of something on the web, I can write, circle and doodle all over it.

Where I’m using the paper/digital blend

My analog thinking space. (Photo by Matt Miller)

My analog thinking space. (Photo by Matt Miller)

I’ve always had a thing for notebooks … especially cool ones. Whenever I do thinking and planning for new projects and ideas, I love to get it all down on paper. It just seems to flow easier that way.

  • The big black notebook is my catch-all. If I have a fleeting thought and I want to capture it, it goes there.
  • The little black notebook is a dedicated notebook for a big project. All of my ideas go in there.
  • The opened cardboard-cover notebook is my attempt at a log book. It’s an idea from Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” … just finished it. Short, fun read. And as of publication of this post, the paperback is only $5.99 on Amazon. And Prime shipping. Go get it.)

On each day, he jots short sentences or phrases about his day with little icons or pictures next to them. Here’s a post he did about keeping a log book. 

How I’m making them digital

My tool of choice is Google Keep (keep.google.com). It’s like sticky notes that follow you wherever your Google account goes. You can add them from a mobile device or your computer. Here’s what they call an “epic blog post” about Google Keep and how you can use it.

The mobile device is kind of like a scanner in your pocket. I’m taking photos of my sketches/notes/doodles and adding them to notes in Keep with my phone.

That’s where the power of digital comes in. Here’s how I can make my notes available anywhere and searchable:

  • Labels let me categorize my notes. Labels are like the tab on a traditional file folder … except that you can add as many labels as you want.
  • You can color code your notes, too. (I’m not organizing by color — yet. Holding off to see how I want to add that extra layer of organization.)
  • Google Keep can read the text in your images. This works best when it’s typed text. Keep isn’t great at reading my sloppy handwriting. Maybe if yours is neater than mine, it will have better luck!
  • Keep can also grab text from an image. Try it. Add a photo of some printed text. (Again, it’s pretty spotty with handwritten text.) In the note, click the three dots button and choose “grab image text.” It’s kind of like magic.

google keep toggle acctsOne more idea: I’m keeping my paper notes in a separate Google account. I’ve been using Keep for a while and have a ton of notes. I want to keep these handwritten notes in a different spot than my everyday musings and findings.

An easy way to do that: use a different Google account (or create a brand new one). I have what feels like 14 million Google accounts, so I picked one that didn’t have any Google Keep notes in it and have started putting them there.

What happens when I’ve uploaded a page of notes to Keep and I want to change/add?

Annotate. Keep has a little pen icon that lets you draw right on the image. I can add to notes. I can highlight and underline. I can even cross things out and change — just like with real paper.

Where I’m NOT blending paper and digital

Digital still does some things much better than paper does. A few quick examples off the top of my head:

  • Quick thoughts I want to capture and remember. I’m using Keep for those (have been for a while). It’s so easy to open the app, jot down an idea and see/remember it later.
  • Sharing and collaborating on documents.
  • Anything with photos.

The moral of the story

I did it. Many of us in education have done it.

We made going paperless the goal.

It’s a buzz word. It’s sexy. It can get attention and make us look good.

But going paperless shouldn’t be the goal. Choosing the best way to help kids learn should be the goal.

It should all come back to this: What’s best for the kids? What helps them learn effectively?

Play D’oh might be the best option. A sketchbook. A sketching app on an iPad (like Paper by FiftyThree, my personal favorite).

So I’m trying something different. For some things, I’m headed back to paper.

And so far, I’m really liking it. I’m getting reacquainted with the fine point Sharpie. (It’s a glorious relationship right now.)

Digital is powerful. But it’s one piece of the puzzle. Let’s make sure we’re seeing the whole picture.

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