Paperless Homework

The Paperless School of the Future Is Here Now!

Computer networks and Internet resources are helping teachers cut down on paper use. Teachers can keep grades and attendance online and use texts that are available at no cost. How are these experiments going? Is the "paperless classroom" just around the corner? Included: Education World writer Ryan Francis's look at three classrooms that are trying to go paperless!

In a classroom in rural Kentucky, students can no longer use the excuse "My dog ate my homework." And that annoying churning of the pencil sharpener no longer interrupts the teacher's lesson. At Eminence Middle School -- the home of The Paperless Classroom --teacher Stephanie Sorrell has accomplished the seemingly impossible task of transforming her seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms into a paperless society! Her feat is an example of a movement toward paperless classes -- and, perhaps someday, paperless schools.

Sorrell's classes have served as guinea pigs. Those classes were tapped to introduce technology that could vastly improve student achievement, she said. Each of her students now has a personal digital assistant (PDA) that enables him or her to receive tests and homework via an infrared beam from Sorrell's PDA. Instead of standing in front of a copying machine for hours, she types tests and homework assignments into her computer at home and transfers them to the PDAs at school.


In Henry County, Kentucky, a part of the country where agriculture still dominates, farmers use migrant workers to harvest their crops. That is the backdrop against which Sorrell searched high and low for money to help her Spanish-speaking students, mostly the children of migrant workers, learn the same material at the same pace as her English-speaking pupils were learning it. She found the Kentucky Migrant Technology Project, a division of the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC). OVEC provided Sorrell with 30 handheld PDAs, which allowed her to download lesson plans into Spanish to aid the migrant pupils.

"These PDAs do a lot more than we thought," she said, noting that all students in the class, not just the migrant ones, received PDAs. All the students use the PDA calendar function to plan their days and the calculator to do their math, she said. The PDAs have been a good thing for all kids, Sorrell said. "They have worked to motivate kids."


Sorrell figures that, on average, she used to pass out two sheets of paper per day, per student. That would equate to about 900 pieces of paper each week. The handhelds have also helped cut copy machine costs and saved time that she used to spend waiting to use the copier.

"Think about the money schools could save," Sorrell said.

In addition, PDAs indirectly opened the World Wide Web to Sorrell's students. She has downloaded books and plays, including Romeo and Juliet, from the Internet Public Library. So besides the obvious savings in paper, this project has also allowed the school district to save on the purchase of books.

The success last year of the PDA program with her eighth-grade class motivated Sorrell to search for ways to bring PDAs into her seventh-grade class. It wasn't an easy task, she told Education World, but she received about 60 used PDAs from Microsoft.

Despite her success, Sorrell continues to worry about the future. What will happen when these students move onto ninth grade, where they will have to be reacquainted with paper and a pencil? "Kids have come down [from high school] and said to me, 'I miss my PDA,'" she said.

Another concern is repairing and replacing the PDAs. The Eminence school district does not have a technology plan for supplementing or replacing the handhelds Sorrell's students now use. The PDAs are the district's property -- in the same way textbooks are. Students are allowed to take them home, but they must take care not to break or lose the $200 piece of technology, she said.

"My goal is to get something started in either fifth and sixth grade or in the high school ...but I worry. In this district, we don't have a lot of money. All these devices are great, but they break," she said. "I really get nervous [about the future]. We don't have the means to continue [the program]."


Ed Sherretta, department chairman of the business and computer science department at Hatboro-Horsham (Pennsylvania) High School, has led the effort there to create a paperless school. "It's easy to find something on the Web and hit the print button," said Sherretta. The effort to go paperless is designed to raise awareness, he said.

School officials estimated that each of the 20 classes at Hatboro-Horsham used nearly 500 sheets of paper a week.

The idea of a paperless school was first entertained at a tree-planting ceremony on the school grounds. The desire to save trees and the ecology prompted, in part, the push for eliminating paper from the classroom.

Sherretta said the paperless initiative began with basic awareness programs to promote ideas for the digital distribution of data. Students and teachers now use network folders to collect and distribute anything from tests to homework over the school's intranet. Teachers receive morning bulletins and important documents electronically.

Online attendance could be available in the future also, Sherretta said. He acknowledges, however, that security needs to be tighter for something like grades to be available over the public Internet.


"The school district's goal to move to a paperless environment is an ongoing process that requires constant evaluation and new initiatives," he said. "Although in today's world, some processes are more efficiently completed using paper, the school district recognizes that rapidly advancing technology will result in more and more practical applications of paperless processes."

Sherretta is looking into acquiring handhelds for every student in the business department. In a high school with 1,400 students, the district is continually looking to improve the three-to-one student-to-computer ratio at the high school, he said. The district has also implemented a pilot laptop project, which integrates technology into the daily classroom environment.

Sherretta admits the current technology has some limitations. "The limitations of current technology make some conceptually good ideas impractical," he said. His school district is in the midst of applying for a grant that could provide $4 million to the district in the next two years.


At Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, eighth-grade physical science teacher Rodney King uses exam software called Examview. With this software, King's students take their tests on one of the 14 donated computers that are networked throughout the science lab. King records the grades on the network and then transfers them to his electronic grade book. That allows King to send electronic progress reports to parents with "a couple of clicks of the mouse."

He also keeps his students' assignments on a Web page, enabling students to pull a copy of the lab directions onto their computers. Distance learning has enabled some Robertsville students to learn from home.

"I think it would be great [to take paper totally out of schools]," said King said. In the first nine weeks of the current school year, King said, he used fewer than 500 sheets of paper!


  • The Paperless Classroom This article describes in further detail what the class at Eminence Middle School went through to become paperless.
  • Going Paperless: Mellon Competition Learns from Higher Ed Pioneers As a senior adviser in the humanities for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dr. Al Kernan has researched the potential of making electronic admission and selection a success. One of the foundation's grantees, the University of California at Irvine, recently received a two-year grant to help the university battle security problems over the Internet.
  • Children's Paperless Projects: Inspiring Research Via the Web This paper reports results of a study that investigated a group of seventh-grade science students' search strategies using Yahooligans, a World Wide Web search engine and directory for children. It looked at the progress the children made in a paperless society.
  • Pennsylvania School Goes "Paperless" -- Fells Costs, Not Trees This article further describes the paperless environment at the Hatboro-Horsham school.

    Ryan Francis
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2000 Education World

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  • Starting with Paperless Classroom

    If I ask every teacher what would make their work better, their answer would probably be – more efficient and organized classroom. More time for students and less time doing paperwork. Paperless classroom is an concept which, if implemented thoughtfully and carefully, can make your teaching wishes come true.

    However, when starting to think about going paperless, you’ll have to consider some facts. As in every concept, you have to take into account both benefits and challenges. At the beginning, set your expectations low, and see how the paperless concept works for you. Test it. Adapt it to your needs. When you’re ready, set the goals and keep track of them.

    Benefits of Paperless Classroom

    The two most obvious benefits of paperless classroom are smaller cost and less time spent for printing out. Printing out endless number of assignments, homework, syllabi and exams, can be cumbersome and exhausting work. Not to mention, the costs of paper, ink and maintenance can add up to enormous sums. Average American school pays $25,000 annually just for the costs of paper! This alone is a reason enough to start considering implementation of a digital classroom concept.

    Beyond these obvious benefits, there are other perks of implementing paperless classroom system into your school. Paperless implementation can result in a more sustainable and efficient workflow. No more “dog ate my homework” or misplaced exams. Another big value of having a cloud based system is access to data. Teacher can access student data and see whether he’s turned in his homework right from his couch. Deeper analysis of student data can show how student progress over time.

    Not doing things old way, can create a lot of extra time for student collaboration end engagement. Doing things digitally can save time and make more engagement friendly environment. Concepts like flipped classroom and blended learning are some of the examples of fostering collaboration with the use of paperless technology.

    When kids got all the learning materials available in a cloud base or LMS system they can access it whenever they want. Discussions started in classroom can continue at students’ homes. Moreover, Students can share their homework or a group assignments with friends and collaboratively solve problems. As a teacher you can access their assignments in real time end even help them with their struggles from your home.

    Students can engage with the lessons in the way they find more comfortable. Gamification is the perfect example. Students can feel more like they’re having fun, than actually learning, and thus likely to involve more. Furthermore, digital audio-visual formats like videos and screencasts are by a definition more engaging way of consuming information then one-dimensional textual forms.

    Challenges of Paperless Classroom

    No system is perfect. There are several challenges to think about when transitioning to paperless. The obvious one is access to internet and devices. Both of them cost money. In addition, there are tools that you’ll use to transform your class to digital. Whether it is a comprehensive system or a simple app you’ll have to think about money that you’ll need to invest in it. Lastly, think about the hidden costs. Many of products have freemium pricing models. If you don’t pay attention to small print, you may unknowingly end up being charged for an increase of a service.

    Another challenge is a question of training. As much as systems are becoming more easy to use, there is a certain time period that’ll need to pass before accommodating with it. We recommend you to take a trial period or demo version before actually buying a product. That way, you can avoid buying a product that you don’t feel comfortable with. Bad customer support can also be a deal breaker. Call out or send a ticket to test customer support promptness and how they’re dealing with problems.

    Lastly, there’s a mind shifting challenge. Abandoning habits created for years is hard. Many older generation teachers, that didn’t grow up in the internet age, can have an aversion towards digital tools. Moreover, they can think there’s nothing wrong with printed exams and handwrite red-pen homework corrections. As a result, they can feel confused and reluctant. However, younger colleagues can help them out discover pain points when using technology and explain them that tools are not here to replace them, but to help them use their time more efficiently.

    Practical Steps to Go Paperless

    ♦ Build up your digital learning materials repository. LMS systems or cloud platforms like Google Drive or Dropbox are probably the best solution to collect and store all your materials. Recently, AWW has introduced embed option for Canvas, Edmodo and Moodle.


    ♦Create digital lessons/assignments. There are so many tools on the market that enable you screencast your lessons, make video tutorials and record your audio explanations or student’s thoughts. With AWW you can create and save unlimited number of lessons. Use text, drawings, images and files to create intuitive and fun learning materials.

    ♦ Distribute lessons digitally. It is important that you can easily distribute your lessons and assignments. AWW app has made a great tool that will help you share your saved lessons with a click of a button to entire class.  

    ♦ Collect completed assignments the same way you distributed it. Students can easily turn in their AWW assignments by sharing them to Google Classroom.

    ♦ Monitor progress of your students. When we’re talking about monitoring progress over time, yet again, LMS systems come in handy .

    ♦ Connect with parents. Share grades, lessons and assignments with parents and keep them in the loop.

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