The Art of Going Paperless and Accelerating Learning in the Process

Contributed By

Cyndi Amaya

Contributing Writer

The Art of Going Paperless and Accelerating Learning in the Process

Posted in Community | February 11, 2016

We are riding on top of a wave of technological innovation that spans many different aspects of our lives. We think of how much more we can do, the time we can save, but what about paper we save?

One great benefit of going digital is the ability to “go green,” reduce paper usage, and never waste another moment standing at the copy machine. This is true even for the class that is epitomized by the pen and paper, a.k.a., the English class?

For Alyssa Tormala, a teacher and Instructional Technology Coach at St. Mary's Academy in Portland, OR, Schoology helped cut that red tape with green scissors quite successfully. Alyssa, who taught English for the first three years of St. Mary’s 1:1 iPad program, says, "This is not as great a paradox as one might think … my classrooms are practically paperless."

Progress, Not Paper

When St. Mary’s went 1:1, Alyssa’s first goal was to reduce the paper chase in her English classes. Over the course of two years, she continued to implement paperless alternatives.

To learn the impact of that work, Alyssa kept track of paper savings in her three English classes during one 10-week period. She was shocked to find that she and her students had saved over 5,400 pieces of paper (a conservative estimate) as a result of making all handouts and assignments digital whenever possible. And more importantly, by disengaging from “the paper chase,” she was actually able to spend 25.5 more instructional hours working with her students.

Interestingly, Alyssa’s commitment to go paperless has even changed her classroom’s physical environment. Artwork and displays replaced classroom inboxes and student binders. A classroom library now sits where filing cabinets full of paper used to.

Everything now lives in the digital world. Class documents, files, links, handouts, and assignments are all on Schoology. Alyssa’s students now have easy, 24/7 access to these materials, and no one can sell the old “my dog ate my homework” bit.

“I learned a lot about successful technology integration through this process too,” Alyssa says. “I rarely got it right the first time I tried anything. The trick was to not let that bother me. I treated this as an ongoing process of improvement, not a product. Turns out, that’s the best mindset to have regarding anything about technology integration.”

A Couple Tricks of the Trade

When asked if she had any tips to share for those looking to go paperless with Schoology, Alyssa layed them out as follows:

  • Have a clear, consistent file management approach. Use folders to organize all assignments and materials logically. The fewer clicks it takes for a student to get to something, the better.
  • Use the Updates feature to post class agendas before class starts. Not only does this help students during class, it helps those who miss class to keep up.
  • Have students turn in various drafts of their papers or projects to the same Schoology assignment. When combined with digital peer editing (e.g., with Notability), this creates a record of progress from first draft to final draft.
  • Take advantage of the audio, video, and annotation features on assignments. Once you train yourself to use these tools to give feedback, your process will be faster and the feedback richer.
  • The rubric function is a huge benefit! Not only will it give students a clear understanding of what you are looking for, it makes your grading process far more efficient. I especially like this function for verbal assignments like speeches, presentations, and oral interpretations.


Less Time Spent Grading Means More Time for Deeper Learning

While the environment benefits, the students appear to be the clear winners. As Alyssa explains, “student organization and turn-in rates have increased significantly, while confusion over assignments or requirements has decreased.”

Once her assignments went digital, writing and revision in Alyssa’s classes became more streamlined. Students no longer lost past assignments or commentary and could check back anytime for Alyssa’s feedback.

Her students also communicated more outside of the classroom, which has helped increase their engagement. They “post questions and answers, related links, funny pictures, fan casts, and study suggestions,” says Alyssa with a grin.

Most importantly, however, Alyssa has spent countless fewer hours grading quizzes and assignments, allowing her to have significantly more time for planning and engaging in spontaneous extra activities for deeper learning.

“My workflow for grading is so much smoother,” explains Alyssa. “All I need to have with me is my iPad, and as soon as I’ve finished providing feedback, my students have instant access to it. Gone are the days when I left piles of assignments either at home or at work, or when it took me two weeks to grade a simple quiz, or when I forgot to hand back graded homework assignments, or when I had to keep track of late work.”

Those extra minutes of class time pay off. Alyssa uses them for spontaneous warm-up or transitional activities without having to worry about limiting content.

“For example, if I see a relevant article, poem, or video online five minutes before class starts, I can immediately post it to Schoology for everyone to enjoy, without having to worry about spending 20 minutes at the copy machine,” Alyssa says. “This often sparks my students to go on their own searches, the results of which they can also immediately post for group review.”

It’s this kind of digital sharing that appeals to students of the social media age, and one of the reasons Alyssa recommended Schoology to St. Mary’s early in their 1:1 process.

“Don’t get me wrong, students still use their favorite social media tools to connect about school work,” she says. “But Schoology gives them the ability to instantly connect with the teacher and other students in a particular class when they have questions or want to share an inside joke that only that class will understand. As a result, our classroom community has been enhanced both inside and outside the four walls."

So how would Alyssa sum up her experience with Schoology over the past three years? "Schoology makes it possible for me to minimize or remove the red tape, paperwork, and other obstacles,” she explains, “so I can focus on being first and foremost a teacher, guide, facilitator, moderator, and model."

Alyssa Tormala
Instructor/ Instructional Tech Coach
St. Mary's Academy
Educator of the Year Finalist

Written by Cyndi Amaya

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