Going paperless has a lot of benefits.
Work time can be more productive. What students produce can be shared widely. And think of the thousands of sheets of paper saved.
When I ditched my textbooks several years ago, I moved toward more electronic means of doing almost everything in my classroom. Here are 20 ways my classes improved though going more digital ways and less paper.
And if this list seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a paperless classroom. Find one or two useful tools in the list and start the journey.
1. Communication — Teachers have access to real-time communication with students and parents unlike any other time in history. Celly, Google Voice and Remind 101 connect them via an instant and widely-used communication tool — text message. Google Voice’s voicemail features give teachers access to voice messages anywhere.
3. Creation — Plenty of great products of learning can be created online and then shared with classmates or the world. Google Apps boasts powerful tools that can create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and more online. Those creations can be shared with a link or embedded in webpages for others to see and work with.
4. Demonstration — New content can be shown to the world, extending the learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. SlideShare showcases slideshows for students or teachers. Narrable uses images and audio to create multimedia presentations.
5. Online hub — A class website is a great centralized location for posting links to important sites, explaining content, assigning activities and displaying student work. I created a Weebly site where students can access my study guides and practically anything else they need for my class. Other options, like Google Sites, would work, too.
6. Quick formative assessment — So many tools can show teachers what students know in a snap. A fast “do now” activity can guide instruction immediately. Socrative and TodaysMeet give teachers easy options for asking basic questions for instant feedback. TodaysMeet is a versatile tool that can be used many other ways as well.
7. Deeper summative assessment — Students can demonstrate their deep understanding of content in so many ways. Screencast videos using free sites like Screencast-O-Matic or Screenr can be a great gauge of understanding and a useful resource for future learners. Infographics created on Piktochart or Google Drawings can do the same.
8. Student work showcase — Creating an online home for student work is free and can make a lasting impact on their post-secondary and professional lives. Sites on Weebly, Google Sites or Blogger can become eportfolios of student work, showing college admissions offices or interviewers real application of students’ skills.
10. Media tools — Creating and manipulating media can make lasting connections to content and engage students effectively. Podcasts are easily created with free Audacity software. (Note: My “Broadcast with Podcasts” workshop resources offer easy how-to steps to use Audacity and several in-class applications of podcasts.) Many great video creation options exist, including PowToon (for easy animated videos) or WeVideo (for video editing). I created a Tech Tuesday Screencast for WeVideo.
11. Homework help — Backchannel sites like TodaysMeet and Backchannel Chat can be great places for students and teachers (or students and other students!) to meet outside of school hours to provide support. Or students working in a collaborative Google document can use its built-in chat feature to have conversations digitally.
12. Resource curation — With the fire hose of information that can stream at students and yourself, it’s nice to have tools that will help you hold on to and organize the good stuff you find. Diigo, Pearltrees, Evernote and Symbaloo are four great and different options (all with their own benefits) for connecting students with the right resources.
13. Global connections — The world is at your door with the power of the Internet. Classes around your country or the world are ready to connect with your students, share in their learning and teach each other. Skype in the Classroom offers a great community to collaborate on lessons. So does the Google Hangouts in Education community on Google Plus. Connecting classrooms can be accomplished with video chats or even simple shared documents on Google Drive. My classes have begun connecting with students in Spain, and the results have been great.
14. Lesson and curriculum planning — The shift to digital isn’t just for students! Lessons and curriculum can be planned in a shared space like a document or spreadsheet in Google Drive. Teachers can create Google Forms for lesson planning, too. A form with the date, class, activities and standards funnels that data into a spreadsheet of lessons (like a digital lesson plan book) that can be searched and sorted. (Thanks, John Wells, for the idea.)
15. Fun — This is a classroom staple, and we all know how much fun can be had online. Create memes for your students using pictures from class and Quick Meme. Find entertaining and relevant YouTube videos, or turn classroom video into an animated GIF with imgflip.
16. Intriguing kickstart activities — Start class with a bang. Gather and display student responses in an Answer Garden. Take a class survey for assessment or student choice using Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter. Or display a great Creative Commons (i.e. usable without copyright infringement) photo from Flickr.
17. Varied viewpoints — Pull in opinions and world views from people all over the globe. Connect with experts in your field. There’s a lot of educational chatter going among students and educators on Twitter, Google Plus and other social media. Connect to a content area with one of these educational Twitter chats or hashtags.
18. Quality content — Plenty of relevant content is ready to be pulled into your class online. TED Talks are a great source of inspiration. Digital curriculum options abound at SAS Pathways, Khan Academy and NBC Learn. Free Stanford engineering courses, UC Berkeley courses and MIT courses, among others, are available.
19. Writing — If students have a real audience — especially of their peers — they take writing more seriously, in my experience. And if their writing has a potential global audience, it’s taken to the next level. Blogging is a great writing medium for students because it gives them an audience beyond just the teacher. Plus, commenting taps into social media skills that many of them already possess. KidBlog, Edublogs and Blogger are great tools to get students writing online. My “From Blah to Blog” workshop page has lots of resources to get you started.
20. Feedback — Teacher and peer feedback can be delivered instantly and easily. Comments can be added to virtually anything by teachers, students or others (imagine feedback from experts in the field!) created with Google Drive. Teachers can give a visual and vocal touch to grading student work by creating a screencast (Screencast-O-Matic or Screenr) to explain its strengths and weaknesses.