The Issue: Michael is now more organized as he uses Google Apps for email, documents, and his calendar, and he uses Moodle to access and submit assignments.  Since he has been working on projects, watching and making videos, collaborating with others, and presenting his work to classmates and community members, he has been more motivated: he is not only a better student, but a happier and more successful one.

However, this change in Michael has required significant work from his teachers.  They have had to re-think the way they organize their curricula, use class time, and interact with their students.  They have had to prepare a wealth of new materials, though fortunately, they have been able to work together as well as access resources on the internet.  But, since these resources are paperless, they can be shared, are always accessible, and are saved for posterity.


The paperless classroom itself is an environment where teachers remove obstacles to learning by making resources available in a single online location and where students and teachers create digital documents using powerful organizational tools.  It is one where heavy backpacks stuffed with disorganized papers, where losing assignments, and where forgetting about assessments are events of the past.  But, the twenty-first century classroom is a searchable, accessible, revisable, and organized environment where students have the opportunity to focus on learning priorities.

Beyond the lack of paper in the twenty-first century classroom is the shift from a teacher-centered learning domain with the emphasis on information delivery and knowledge recall.  The tools afforded by current technology married with the demands of our innovation-centered, information-rich, hyper-connected 21st century world, require that we provide an environment for our students to collaborate, publish, create, analyze, and communicate.  Twenty-first century assignments and projects are meaningful to our students, will motivate and inspire them, and will encourage them to make use of digital tools and devices to help them fulfill their potential.

With the enhanced access to information provided by modern technology comes enhanced opportunity but also three potential risks:

  1. The dizzying array of new tools provides the temptation to continue to feed content to students, but just in more attractive ways;
  2. The unbounded quantities and sources of information on the internet provides opportunities to violate the intellectual properties of others and temptations to cut corners in our own learning;
  3. Our sources of information are not ‘curated’ for us in the same way as encyclopedias and textbooks did in the past: we need to continually hone our students’ abilities to evaluate the quality of the information available on the internet.

In developing our paperless classroom environment, then, we need to be intentional in our focus on higher-order thinking skills, the importance of intellectual property, and the ability of our students to discern the quality, purpose, and viewpoint of all media:

  • The Project-Based Learning model encourages students to develop higher-order thinking skills through taking ownership in their learning, collaborating, problem-solving, and creating work that will be communicated to the ‘real world’.
  • Tools such as Turnitin can provide, at a minimum, discussions about intellectual property.
  • Building units into our courses that focus on the aptitudes needed to effectively search the internet will provide our students with essential 21st century skills.

Effectively using current technology is about leveraging these tools and others to motivate students and help them stay organized.

By creating a paperless classroom environment, and one  that is designed beyond the elimination of paper, we are preparing students not only for the 21st century, but more importantly, for their lives ahead.

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Beyond the Paperless Classroom by David Doherty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.