It is not about being paperless, it is about improved learning!

As more and more schools have gone 1:1, giving a device to each student, you hear many schools talking about going paperless.  Too many focus on the paperless part of using more technology instead of how using technology effectively can drastically improve learning.

Technology won’t always be the best tool for the job but it does win out in many different situations.  We should always be evaluating each learning situation to determine the best tool for our students.  Some may benefit from a paper at certain times but we have to be conscious of how the tool can impact the learning.  We also have to be aware of the possibilities that technology can allow us when it is used effectively.

One thing that a lot of people talk about is how much more they enjoy the feel of paper, which could be a book or just lose paper, over that of a computer or a tablet.  The aesthetics appeal to that person, but I would suggest that you can’t just think about how something feels, you have to look at the function and the purpose of what you are using.  If you are just reading for enjoyment and not learning, there is no large advantage for the most part of using technology.  However, if you are reading to learn, there are so many more features available on digital text over paper text that you have to take that into consideration.  I probably could list many reasons but my top ones are as follows:

  • The digital file could be available across multiple devices meaning you do not need the same device all the time.  I find it very helpful to be able to read the same file on my computer, tablet, or phone depending on which I have with me.  My notes and highlights also transfer across devices so I can quickly access them.  If given a choice for learning, I would prefer a Kindle copy so I know I always have access to it and do not have to remember to bring my book with or be afraid I will lose it.  It is much harder to lose a digital copy than a paper copy.
  • I have quick access to dictionaries and text to speech tools to help me understand what it is I am reading.  We come across unfamiliar words all the time and being able to right-click onto a word to pull up the definition means I do not have to take the time to go somewhere else to know what that word means.  I can also have a text to speech tool “read” the text to me so I can focus on understanding what it says instead of having to decipher complex words that may be difficult for me to read.
  • If the text was not in my native language, I could easily translate it or even come up with leveled text using various tools.  Having Google Translate in your browser can easily allow you to quickly translate any word that you are having trouble with.  This means that a text written in one language can quickly be made accessible for those who are not native to that language.
  • Annotating and highlighting digital text does not limit the ability for the text to be used again with future students.  You can easily buy a Kindle copy of the text and assign that to one student who can make their annotations and highlights.  Once that student is done with the class, that text can be retrieved and then assigned to another student.  The new student will not have any of the highlights or annotations from the other student but the previous student can still access their highlights and annotations in the future if they were able to purchase the text.
  • Schools typically have a limited number of paper texts and resources that often have to be turned back into the teacher when that unit is over.  Many digital resources, especially if you are making use of OER, can be used long after the course is over.

Overall, the main point I am trying to make is that there are far more options for students to be able to learn more effectively using technology than if they only get the analog option of paper.  If our goal is to help each student become the best learner they can become, then we must be making use of digital resources and tools while at the same time paying attention to individual student needs and offering choices.  Those choices can include analog but if digital is not included, we are doing a disservice to our students and their futures.

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