How I Went from Handouts to Online in just 25 Years

Twenty five years. That’s how long I’ve been teaching. And I barely hand out any paper at all these days. And I know quite a few other teachers are in the same place. But it didn’t happen all at once.

OK, it didn’t really take 25 years. But I wouldn’t recommend trying to go paperless in one shot. And I do encourage you to start the transition now. Here’s why.

Resources. I think everybody understands that resources — paper, copying machines, staff and time to operate them — are scarce.

Organization. Our students are taking six or seven courses. Is it realistic to expect them to organize all of the paper that each teacher hands out? Maybe for some students. Maybe for some students with stay-at-home parents to assist. Maybe for some students with tutors. In any case, is organizing paper what you want your students to spend their time on? I think not. Besides, a well-organized Canvas course keeps your students focused on the content and skills you want them to acquire. It’s as simple as that.

messy binder
Photo Credit: Michael Wyszomierski

Engaged Students, Deeper Learning. What I’m talking about here ties into the big picture of engaging students with opportunities for deeper, more significant learning. It’s the name of the game. Providing tons of content for rote memorization is, well, old school.

And if you’re handing out reams of paper PowerPoint packets, isn’t that what you’re expecting? Rote memorization? Shifting your practice can mean a shift to engaging student work that requires less paper in the first place.

I know. It takes time to organize the materials in your Canvas course. But consider this: if you don’t organize it, each one or your students will have to organize it for themselves. Mathematically speaking, the equation looks like this: # courses x # students = HUGE waste of time! Every week. All year long.  Do you know how students do this? They print at home and/or at school everything you post and organize it into binders. Or their parents and tutors do it. C’mon!

So simply posting everything isn’t enough. It has to be posted in an organized, user-friendly fashion. Need help with that? I’m happy to look over your course materials, give you suggestions, and even help you get started in the heavy lifting. Contact me!

Going Paperless = Engaged Students. What does going paperless have to do with engaged students? It’s not a simple cause-and-effect result. But here’s the story of my Aha! moment and the connection between this simple step and a profound transformation of my teaching.

One of my first attempts to “go paperless” stemmed from my own lack of planning. (“Crap! I need 100 copies of that handout for tonight’s homework — now!!!”) So I started scanning or retyping stuff and posting it online. Brilliant!

Then I started posting my PowerPoint presentations — but not with my Speakers’ Notes, because that’s what I delivered in class. Wouldn’t want them goofing off in class with my speakers’ notes already printed in front of them! Noooo, no! It kind of bothered me that many of my students were printing out the PowerPoints —sometimes before I even lectured in class. But “Whatever!”

Then it hit me. It happened on a snowy, school-is-cancelled day. Another day of no classes — and we were falling behind. I thought, why not post the day’s PowerPoint with my voice speaking the lecture?  I sat in bed, snow piling up in the driveway, and figured out how to record my 55 minute lecture, slide by slide, and posted it online. I felt like a genius, “phoning it in” from the comfort of my home!

It’s Already Done! After doing a couple of those —it takes, um, a lot of time to record those things, and, um, I quickly realized that I say “um” a lot.  Then a colleague shared an online U.S. history video series called Crash Course. Whoa! Those videos are lively and, um, a lot more engaging than my, um, PowerPoints, ya know?

Talk about engaging. John Green of The Fault is in Our Stars, and Vlog Brothers fame delivering smart, accurate U.S. history facts and interpretation?! I can’t compete with that! I started sharing the link for the appropriate video for each unit. No more recording content videos for me. Done!

The amount of ready-for-viewing digital K-12 content that’s already online is tremendous and growing. Crash Course now includes more than a dozen subject areas. And that’s just one of many sources of educational videos.

The Flipped Classroom. So here’s the connection. In the process of going paperless, I was actually flipping my classroom without realizing it. Now it’s my goal. I’m shifting to more active and engaging work like student-led discussions, peer review, group problem-solving, project-based learning, and simulations. My plan is to increasingly implement classroom activities that rely on the more rote learning at home, and more interesting, higher-level thinking work in the classroom where I can monitor and coach students. One great resource is the book, The Flipped Classroom: the Full Picture, by Jackie Gerstein.

Want to learn more? Email me for a set of Flipped Learning resources to get yourself started.


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