Teacher Tech blog with Alice Keeler

Paperless Is Not a Pedagogy

Alice Keeler

Stop Uploading PDF’s and Digital Worksheets

Stop Uploading PDF’s and Digital Worksheets

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I have received several tweets about how cumbersome it is to have students work with PDF’s in a digital format. I am going to be blunt, uploading your worksheets to PDF’s and putting them online is not a 21st century lesson. This is substitution on the SAMR model. It is a pain to manage digital worksheets. May I take this opportunity to suggest that is because you should not be doing this.

Using technology should create a BETTER learning environment. If you are doing the same tasks with technology you should expect the same educational outcome. Rethink when using tech how you can change what you do. How the task can be more student centered. Allow for more creativity. How do digital tools allow you to differentiate and personalize the instruction? How do digital tools allow your students to become independent learners?

If The Computer Can Grade It, It Should

One of the advantages to digital work is the ability for students to receive feedback faster. Instead of uploading worksheets to your website, Google Classroom or your LMS for students to fill out consider instead recreating the worksheets in Google Forms, That Quiz, Quia, or any of the many other online tools for administering quizzes. Do a Google Search for “online quiz” and several options come up.
Online Quiz

If the questions are DOK 1 or DOK 2 a computer can probably grade it. It is significantly more motivating to students to immediately receive feedback on their progress. Rather than do an entire worksheet of problems, wait for the teacher to grade it and give them their scores back, online quiz tools can provide students with feedback immediately after every question or at the completion of the questions. This is win win. The students are more motivated and receive their scores immediately. Teachers save time grading. The quiz generators often have data that the teacher can then look at to see what percentage of the class are being successful, how long it is taking them to do the work, and more quickly target students that need help.

I typed up all of my worksheets, quizzes and tests into quia.com. This allowed me to spend my time helping students rather than grading. The analytics and reports helped me to better target students and make adjustments to my instruction. It also helped me to differentiate. It is unlikely that a worksheet is appropriate for every single student in the class. Some students need more practice, some students need less. Using Quia I could type the questions into a question bank to assign the students a random 3-5 problems. The catch was that they had to get 100%. Instead of doing 30 problems and finding out they were not doing it correctly students would do ONE problem and discover they were not doing it correctly. They would make adjustments and try again. If they were unsuccessful again they would stop and ask for help. This reduced or eliminated a lot of frustration for my students. Having students link to online quizzes allows me to provide the students choices. Advanced students can practice more challenging work. Students who are struggling can practice work that is more at their level. Because the computer is grading the questions it is not a grading burden on the teacher to have different students doing different work.

Short Answer

Using Google Docs, Google Forms or something like Quia is a better solution than having students annotate a PDF for short answer questions. Using Google Forms I can see EVERY students short answer in a spreadsheet. This is grading bliss. I am not opening and closing 30-200 digital files. I open one spreadsheet and I see every students answer all at once. I can create a column for feedback and quickly and easily respond to each students answers in the feedback column. Use a mail merge to email students their feedback or use Autocrat to merge the students answers and your feedback into a Google Doc and share it with the student in Google Drive.

6 thoughts on “Stop Uploading PDF’s and Digital Worksheets

  1. Alice –
    I am a technology and marketing consultant, not a teacher, yet I consistently find your articles and point of view refreshing and full of useful insights. Using digital tools to organize and simplify the workflow, as well as provide a more personalized experience, is a way to leverage technology for maximum benefit. Thank you for your excellent work, and generous spirit of sharing with the community.
    Eric Bobrow

  2. Hi Alice,

    I LOVE this idea and want to implement it in my classroom ASAP. We just became a 1:1 school. I love all of the add ons that you talk about and would love to try the mail merge add on for feedback. However, add ons are not allowed at this time b/c it is unclear if add ons like Flubaroo violate FERPA guidelines. Do you have any thoughts on a work around for something else that might work to quickly give back feedback using a google form? My assignments often require longer answers.

    1. Each add on has it’s own potential violation. Flubaroo was created by a Googler. Are you able to add scripts to the script gallery? You can copy and paste the code for mail merge into script editor and then use that without installing any add-ons.

      1. Awesome. I am not sure if we are able to add scripts or not. I don’t see that option on the insert menu, but I do see some options in the script gallery. Do you have a link to a code I could try?

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