Learning Goes Paperless


Eight and a half by eleven—white, blank, empty. Paper has always been one of the necessary elements of school that students take for granted.

For decades upon decades Tech students have clutched lined notebook paper in their hands as they trudge to class; they have frantically flipped through these same sheets during finals week, reviewing the surfeit of notes they scribbled months ago.

As the world develops technologically, however, could paper finally be leaving the classroom once and for all?

According to a survey conducted by the Faculty Focus, eighty-three percent of college-age teachers allow laptops in their classrooms and a little over half of these teachers also allow smart phones.

The trend is only growing with teachers moving towards online homework, electronic notes, and using websites like t-square, web-assign and myeconlab. Why not continue the trend?

Dr. Randall Engle, a Professor of Psychology who does not allow computers in his room says,  “The first class I taught was in 1969 and I have been teaching for a long time.  Over the last eight to ten years, my experiences with computers are that they have been a distraction. The temptation is very great to get on Facebook or to surf. I don’t think physically writing has any particular advantage over typing for processing information, but with computers I often lose the attention of not only the Facebook surfer, but the people behind him or her.”

What do students have to say about this phenomenon? “I take notes on my iPad using a stylus pen… it actually works out really well, and my backpack is really light because I don’t have a lot of folders in there,” said Alexa Pierre, a first-year ECON major. The stylus pen keeps her away from her computer and she does not use any paper.

“This shift is a good thing,” he says.  “It allows us to use different media — video, still images, music, digitized archives, web sites, and so forth — in the classroom, and this is enormously positive,” said John Tone, Associate Dean for the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. However he does not allow computers in his classroom.

Using slide shows in class also allows the teachers to post the class notes before exams, which can be a useful study tool.

The online trend does present one discreet notable downside, however — the cost to the student.  Each time a professor puts a lab online or posts a reading on t-Square, one of two situations can occur.

In one situation, the homework can be completed completely online, a task which comes with its own nuances.   A disobliging Math Lab might not submit answers, a critical webpage to submitting homework will not seem to load on a computer 10 minutes before a deadline and long hours in front of the screen will lead to eye strain.

In the second, more common situation, professors ask students to print the posted documents and bring them to class.  This puts the monetary burden of printing on the student.  When students have only fifty free prints a week in the Library, printing can be an irritating burden that takes away valuable Buzzcard money.

There is an upside to moving towards paperless classes however. When considering the reduction of Tech’s carbon footprint, the removal of actual paper becomes more attractive.

For instance, in a class of about 150 people, submitting all homework online can save thousands of sheets of paper per class. At Tech, each semester extends about sixteen  weeks and an average class takes up three hours each week.  If each student in that class of 50-100 students only received one sheet of homework each class period, the students used 4000-5000 total sheets of paper.

Summed over all classes and students, the paper saved by taking notes on computers or distributing them online and submitting assignments online would be tremendous.

Following this trend of paperless action are banks and businesses, who offer their financial and documentation services completely online. As more and more corporations adopt this strategy then schools will follow, as external grading and work submission services offer a huge incentive to professors with ever growing class sizes. If not for the environment then schools will adopt the paperless classroom for ergonomic reasons.

However, the total elimination of paper causes some issues as well. The production of paper is a demand-driven business, such that trees are planted and grown with the intent to cut them down later for wood pulp. A large part of forest reproduction actually relies on this process, and as universities consume a large percentage of the United State’s paper supply they too are in direct control of the health of tree farms. Planting trees will only be more economically viable than cutting down rainforests if demand is high enough.

The trend towards paperless classes seems like it’s here to stay. Whether the savings in natural resources as a result of lesser consumption of paper outweigh energy consumption by electronic tablets, computers and the like is hard to say.




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