I’m in the midst of getting my class ready for a midterm, so I spent the evening on an exam review sheet and the general format of the exam itself. As a result, I find it getting too late for me to write what I really wanted to for this week’s “Global Warming Wednesday”: a meditation on how I’m trying to change my consumerist way and how that ties into my environmental concerns.
But all of this teaching and planning does remind me of a conflict I face whenever I’m teaching a class: the amount of paper I use.
I try to minimize it by copying on both sides when possible or using only half a sheet if a quiz or handout is short. And I justified giving a single-sided, four-page exam by reasoning that they could use the blank sides for scratch paper and that giving them enough space to answer on the exam meant they wouldn’t have a three-page exam PLUS an eight-page blue book (which they wouldn’t fill).
On the other hand, there are plenty of times when I feel that it is pedagogically sound, if not necessary, to create handouts that present information differently than the book, give them additional examples, or present the correct answers to a longer homework assignment. And I am a teacher at heart, so I can’t justify sacrificing effective teaching for the paper I do continue to use.
Having a website for the class helps a little. I can make old handouts available there and avoid keeping extras around (though I have no idea how often students print them instead of just viewing them online). I can also provide extra information on the website—I recently posted a list of links to sites with extra practice—and direct students to it. Especially for items that are not part of the core information for the course, this has been a satisfactory solution; students know where they can find it, but I’m not making handouts for students who will never look at it again.
Just yesterday I was pondering the extent to which teaching might go paperless. I started thinking about papers and how a fifteen-page paper from a class of twenty or thirty starts to add up. And I wonder if we’ll find ourselves moving towards electronic submission of more things. While I still prefer proofreading and grading papers in physical form, it would not be impossible to accomplish the same activities through a word processing program. Such programs can track changes and allow you to add virtual comments in the margin.
As a student and researcher, I’ve begun to rely on pdf and html versions of articles that are available online. I generally try not to print them off if I can help it, and reading scholarly work from the screen is getting easier. Interestingly, my best friend and I disagree about our preferred formats. I like pdfs and having to advance page-by-page, much like an article on paper. My friend prefers the html versions that allow you to scroll through and click on footnotes (and then jump back), more like a webpage. I suspect this is primarily an indication of our age difference; I’m just enough older than she is that the internet has played vastly different roles in our childhoods.
In any case, I see possibilities for decreasing the amount of paper (and possibly other resources) used in education, though I wonder about how quickly and how thoroughly they’ll supplant the traditional supplies. What other changes can you see as possible?