I have used blogs to relay information to my students for years now. I am happy to avoid wasting paper but also to prevent any “I lost the form” or “I missed class, I didn’t know what the homework was.” claims in class. In this way, it leaves a sort of (non)paper trail that shows my students had all the information they needed.
The blog, or any online communication platform for students, should be more than that, of course. In the past, I have pushed the internet tools part of class as far as I could and found diminishing returns very quickly. In my current classes, I can only use ten percent of the student’s grade for homework. Having the students sign in to a common website and share information and consistently spend time at is difficult to impossible to motivate.
Still, I use the blog to its full extent. Class and university information is posted there as well as English Cafe events. Often, but not for every week, I post the presentation slides on the blog. In fact, they are usually up early so students could check them out before class. Finally, sleeping students are photographed, their faces obscured so only classmate will recognize them, then posted on the blog.
As a result, I don’t hand any paper out to my students. However, I do expect them to hand in assignments in hard-copy. I don’t know if there are any word processors that offer ‘grading’ features that work simply. It is far easier to use a red pen (or pens of varied colors) to underline and circle and jot notes, then to use a word processor’s capabilities to highlight offending passages, offer corrections and the like. Maybe I could do that in image manipulation programs.
Anyway, I find it easier to offer commentary in pen than via a word processor.
This year, my second year students are blogging their homework. I like what I am seeing but I have the same problems. Their work is paperless, but my grading works best on hard copy. This is for the reasons set above, but also because I wish to be circumspect in publicly pointing out student’s errors. On my student’s blogs, I routinely add comments on the content but don’t mention which parts I find confusing or have bad grammar or the like.
On a similar subject, I am now reading Pencil Me In, a wonderful story, told in an elaborate and satisfying metaphor, of using modern technology in the classroom. The story is set in the early 1900’s and Techno Tom is advocating for the use of pencils in his classrooms. The older teachers don’t see why students can’t just use slates and chalk, and the parents are concerned that the students will just use the pencils to play games (hangman and some form of Bingo). On nearly every page, I see teachers, techniques and even the terminology of this era accurately described and thought out. In an inspired section, students save their work in folders. Some accidentally save their work on the desktop and one student absent-mindedly places his in the trash can. I was honestly startled in recalling that all these are real world objects, not merely icons on my computer.
Spencer, the author has many blogs that are aggregated here.
If you are interested in paperless teaching, follow Spenser or Shelly Blake-plock for ideas and such.