March 8th, 2011

Transitioning to Paperless Teaching and Learning Spaces


I am standing in the door of my office at the end of the semester, looking at the piles of paper stacked on the desk, on the filing cabinets, and on the floor. I realize that I need to make some changes to support an e-learning environment and be more ecologically responsible. With student learning outcomes in mind, I try to envision what this new learning space would look like and what it would mean for me and my students.

A few weeks after this personal reflection, I decided to make a commitment to a paperless classroom that uses more e-learning concepts and “e-nvironmentally friendly” strategies. This article describes the changes I’ve made and how they support learning outcomes and course goals.

The emphasis now is on learning spaces that encourage both faculty and students to use networked mobile devices to engage with course content. Taking these factors into consideration, I explored the advantages and challenges of using Web 2.0 tools and an online portal for the integration of e-learning for an undergraduate nursing course. This national nursing portal is a personalized Web-based resource that helps students and nurses manage their careers, connect with colleagues, and access current and relevant literature to support their professional practice. The Web 2.0 tools support collaborative and cooperative learning for students as they develop their required assignments.

I also decided to use public online sites within the university’s site where students can post their wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, or photovoice projects. I spend time making students aware of privacy issues and the need to meticulously credit those references and resources they are using in their research.

e-nvironmentally friendly
Environmentally friendly classrooms are those classrooms where educators try to minimize harm to the natural world. I made a decision to eliminate (or at least significantly reduce) course handouts, required texts, paper submissions from students, and paper-marking tools. Although I had previously moved to a blended approach to my courses, this decision still meant considerable change. In the past, I had required text reading or handed out articles for students to read. My classes continue to get larger, which leads to more paper being used during a semester. Now my students access the required sources for the course through the national nursing portal. It offers students a choice of materials, including e-texts, research-based documents, videos, and podcasts.

I next thought about my course assignments and how I could make them e-nvironmentally friendly. Students now submit their formal papers through an online home page. I mark and return the assignments to students via their university email addresses. I have developed an electronic marking guide that I complete for each student and return with the student’s paper as individual feedback. I post all announcements for the student group on a weekly basis on the home page.

Assessment and evaluation
I work with students throughout the semester, helping them to design assignments that are of interest to them and will help to prepare them for their professional responsibilities. At the end of the course, I have students assess the assignments by commenting on the strengths and limitations of those learning experiences. For example, how did they approach the assignment? What suggestions would they make to improve it? What technology tools were helpful to them in completing and posting the results of their assignment? I continue to ask myself this question: do paperless teaching and learning spaces produce a significant difference in learning outcomes for the students in my courses? I believe these changes do a better job of engaging my students, but I have not yet collected data that would document changes in learning outcomes.

I am standing in the door of my office at the end of the semester, looking at the small box of jump drives on the desk. I see no piles of paper on the desk or floor or filing cabinet. The changes I have made to transition to paperless learning spaces support student learning, reduce paper consumption, and use technology to develop assignments. Keeping student learning outcomes in mind, I try to envision the next steps that I will take to enhance the teaching and learning spaces that the students and I work in and what this will look like for the students in the next semester.

What about you? Have you tried to reduce the amount of paper used in your courses? Please share your strategies in the comment box below.

Dr. Sandra Bassendowski is a professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan.

Excerpted from The Teaching Professor 24.1 (2010): 5.