Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Take one and pass the rest back

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?

4 comments:

metro mama said...

Google Books is pretty cool. So much is available online now. I do find it hard to read anything very long electronically though.

I try to use library books whenever possible.

bubandpie said...

My online course takes place in a paperless environment, so I DO grade papers (for that course) in electronic form. And I have to say - it's exhausting. Grading takes longer and is somehow more draining than with the paper versions.

In my children's lit courses, students are increasingly relying on online versions of the books, which is nice from an environmental and a financial standpoint for them.

Suz said...

Like b&p, I also teach online, in a completely paperless environement. However, I find grading online to be fairly easy. I use track changes, but also the automatic feature of word so I can select from about thirty or so comments with a click. These aren't the only comments that I include, but they do help!

Mouse said...

I love the idea of using auto-text for comments--obviously not all of them, but as a foundation (and time-saver).

Teaching a language, it's harder to figure out how to work in some of those strategies. I do scan handouts in for our website, but if students submitted work that way, it would be hard to work with it in a format where I could comment.

And I'm convinced some of this is an age thing--I can't read long things on a screen, but I think that students ten or so years younger are growing up with this as a more common activity.