The Electric Educator: 📝 Do you teach with a paper-based mindset? 📝

Monday, January 8, 2018

📝 Do you teach with a paper-based mindset? 📝

Paper was invented around 100 BC in China.

Google Docs was developed in 2005 by Sam Schillace.

While Google Docs is designed to look like paper, It isn't an improved version of paper - it's something different entirely. The opportunity to collaborate in real-time through an interconnected, device flexible platform creates entirely new possibilities. For those of us in the classroom, these new tools offer new potential and un-explored opportunity.

So here is the big question: Are you approaching the tech in your classroom with a paper-based mindset?

Before we begin, I want to clearly say that I am NOT against the use of paper in school (being anti-paper is silly). There is nothing wrong with paper. It has a very important role in the classroom. If paper is the best tool for the job USE IT!

Technology like Google Drive, WeVideo, Pear Deck and Google Classroom are fundamentally different than "analog" tools. We must approach them with a new perspective.

Here are six questions to ask yourself as you consider how you use technology:

🔳 Do you require students to work within "the box"? 🔳

There are many digital tools that “feel” like paper (i.e. Google Docs). There is no reason to limit yourself to an 8.5 x 11 inch rectangle. Would your next assignments work better as a Google Drawing, Presentation, website or video? A digital canvas is infinite and can grow and stretch as your ideas grow and take shape. You may feel more comfortable working with paper, but don't limit your students to the rectangle.

How to break out of "the box" in your classroom:

  • Use tools that don’t feel like paper (Video, Prezi, Google Drawing)
  • Transform your paper worksheets using tools like Blendspace, EdPuzzle, or Quizlet
  • If you use Google Docs, remember that you can change the size and color of your document to fit the project. There’s nothing special about 8.5 x 11.
  • Are you over-emphasizing length, words, or pages to your students rather than focusing on the quality of the content?
  • Stop using PDF files

🌐 Do you “flatten” student work? 🌐

When you add ideas to paper, it takes a uniform, flat appearance. Digital creation can have multiple layers of information. Google Docs is a great example. Not only do you have the text on the “page”, you can also have comments, hyperlinks, and a history of revisions. There is depth in digital communication. Digital communication is multidimensional.

How to encourage multi-dimensional work in your classroom:

  • Ask students to include links, video, and images in their assignments.
  • Allow students to use tools which support video, audio and images
  • Encourage students to share their work with classmates, the school, and the world
  • Encourage students to link to work from their classmates

💬 Are you limiting collaboration? 💬

Have you ever watched two students write on the same piece of paper at the same time? It’s not easy! Working on paper assumes contribution by one person at a time. With digital tools, several individuals can contribute simultaneously. While collaboration is easier with digital tools, you must design for collaboration. Most paper worksheets were not designed for students to work collaboratively.

How to encourage collaboration in your classroom:

  • Build collaboration into your next assignment
  • Encouraging peer review
  • Ask questions for which there is more than one possible answer
  • Address the difference between cheating and collaboration with your students

✍️ Do you discourage mistakes? ✍️

Have you ever suffered from “blank page syndrome?” It’s the inability to get started because of the fear that it won’t be good enough. Making a mistake on paper is discouraging because it is so difficult to revise your work (remember white-out?). Digital mediums encourage constant adaptation, revision, and improvement. There are no penalties for errors and omissions. Simply revise and continue.

How to encourage revision and adaptation in your classroom:

  • Providing frequent, meaningful feedback
  • Give students an opportunity to reflect on the improvements they have made
  • Give students an opportunity to learn from one another.
  • Assess for growth, not completion.

🏫 Do you venture outside the 4 walls of your classroom? 🏫

A sheet of paper can only exist in one place at a time. Digital content is not limited by time or space - it can existing in many or “all” the places at the same time. This improves organization, sharing, and collaboration.

How to open up your classroom:

  • Allow students to collaborate across class period.
  • Look for cross-curricular opportunities
  • Seek out opportunities to collaborate with experts outside of your school

⚰️ Is your classroom full of “dead” paper? ⚰️

Once distributed, paper becomes a static source of information. Paper is dead. Digital content can be updated, added to and revised on-demand. It’s alive!

How to build living resources in your classroom:

  • Select a single place where students submit work and receive feedback.
  • Create a class website that you can easily update on a daily basis,
  • Design a system to save new ideas and resources when you find them
  • Link classroom resources so that they can be easily updated and adapted
  • Have a plan for updating parents and students about changes to due dates and scheduling

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using paper in your classroom. But don’t restrain your use of technology to the limits of paper and pencil.

If this is something you have embraced in your classroom, I would love to hear about it! Leave me a reply and tell me how you have discarded the "paper based mindset."

Interested in learning how to actually implement these ideas into your classroom? Sign up for one of my online courses! We'll be exploring these ideas in greater depth and I will be sharing some practical ideas to help you get started.


  1. Great food for thought! I am modifying a few of my lessons this week.

  2. Collaborating using the Chromebooks is something I need to do more... I will try to incorporate a collaborative assignment in Social Studies this week.

  3. Made me rethink my lesson delivery methods and the assignment that follows. Thank you.


Thanks for contributing to my blog. I enjoy being a part of the conversation and do my best to respond to comments and questions that are posted.