Teaching in a Paperless Classroom

Last fall, I taught one of the library’s three-credit courses again. I decided to teach it in a way that would use as little paper as possible by using a combination of Google Docs, WordPress, and LibGuides. I have been meaning to write about this for months now. This morning, I did a presentation at the Teaching and Technology Conference here at Baruch College at which I spoke about my little experiment. I’m presenting my slides here as a way of sharing how it worked out for me. When I prepared my slides in PowerPoint, I typed out a script for what I would say in the notes for the slides; if you download the PowerPoint or PDF version of my slides, you’ll be see what it was that I had intended to write as a lengthy post on this blog. If you just want to take a spin through the slides, you can find them embedded below.

My Experiment with Google Docs in the Classroom

This fall, I’m teaching a three-credit course again for a roomful of first-year students: Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities (the course website and syllabus are online). Inspired by the college’s efforts in the past year to help reduce the amount of printing done by students and faculty, I decided this summer that when I started teaching my class I would try to avoid having students turn in homework assignments on paper. Instead of using paper, we’ll be using Google Docs for in-class activities and homework assignments.

On the first day of classes, I had each student who didn’t already have a Google account set one up. Then, I had them create a test document and share it with me (in Google Docs, you can share a document with someone who also has a Google account). This past week, the students turned in their first assignment (a worksheet I had created in Google Docs that they copied into their own accounts, filled out, and shared wtih me). Once the students had shared the documents with me, I was able to “mark up” the papers using the commenting function in Google Docs. Then I told the students that the homework was graded and they could find their grade and my comments on the marked up version of their documents. So far, this has been working OK.

Getting the students to learn how to use Google Docs is going to have a number of benefits:

  • less wasted paper
  • I can copy and paste text into my comments on their homework when necessary instead of having to laboriously write by hand some of the same things in each students’ homework
  • they can turn in text documents, spreadsheets, drawings, and slide presentations in Google Docs
  • they will learn to use a tool for document creation that will come in handy for the many group projects they’ll wind up doing in other classes (this is a biggie, given that our college is a commuter college that makes it hard for students to meet face to face as often as they might if our school were a residential one)