One indicator that we may not yet have fully embraced technology in the classroom is the fact that physical products are preferred, if not strongly demanded, over digital. The reality is that most of the online resources we use in our classrooms are designed to work best online. If you’ve ever noticed it is a little inconvenient to print things from a place like Google Docs (where do all the comments go?) or Moodle, you should know that it is probably intentional.
“But we need to print.”
The arguments for printing everything are interesting. Some of them are mildly valid. For instance, there is a body of research that suggests that actually hand-writing notes is much more valuable for memory than typing notes, mostly because you have to curate what you write, and when you type, you can simply transcribe mindlessly (although I’ve seen quite a bit of mindless hand-writing in my day, as well). So annotating a physical paper is a good idea. Other arguments are debatable at best, such as the proposition that students need to see their work posted around the room, when in reality they are bombarded with distracting decorations on a daily basis to the point that they really don’t observe much of their physical surrounding because they can’t process it without being utterly overwhelmed.
Oh, and then there’s the argument about having things readily available. Students need to have things at their fingertips rather than having to log in to a computer and sign in to get them. This is true–ease of access is a real struggle. But a simple QR code in most cases can solve the problem. Ask some of the kids at Unis Middle School how they can access their Learning Plans online. And sure, kids need to learn organizational skill and be able to manage their physical materials. But I would argue that learning to manage and curate online resources–teaching them to appreciate how much information to which they have access and what to do with it–will be much more valuable to them in the 21st century than showing them how to keep a three-ring binder in order.
Printing kills more than trees.
Take a look at the practice of printing Google Docs, for instance. Up to the point that the document is printed, students have the ability to collaborate, give feedback in real time, assign tasks on a document for which other students can get a direct email notification, edit, look at a full history of revisions, etc. Printing a Google Doc literally kills the document. No longer dynamic, it dies a slow death as it becomes set in cellulose, taped to the wall, checked off on an evaluation rubric, passed back out, and dismissed and recycled by the student (if we’re lucky). Not only is the document dead, but the sense in students of the possibility of continuous growth, improvement, and revision is also exchanged for a sense of finality.
A different direction
What’s the solution? I’m not quite sure yet. One direction to go is to help students collect, curate, and display their work on a platform like Mahara, or another legitimate ePortfolio platform that will have longevity. Many of our teachers and students are already blazing the trail in this way. But at the very least, we can get in the habit of asking the questions, “What is the real reason we’re printing this? And what are we losing if we do?”