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When we say paperless we do not say kids. We do not say learning. We do not say student engagement. For sure we do not say student engagement. Conversations around going paperless miss the focus of why we even teach in the first place.

What is good for learning? Looking at research, the answer is not a device. Pedagogy doesn’t focus on a tool but rather the interactions. Can a tool facilitate good learning? Absolutely. However, that is in the lesson plan design not in the use of a tool. Good pedagogy does not come free.

Teaching is hard. What works for one student doesn’t work for another. The future keeps moving and it’s hard to keep up with all the cultural changes and technology changes. How can we know what is going to be needed 30 years from now? Our students’ futures do involve interacting with digital tools. However, artificial intelligence (AI) and just a plain old Google search necessitates that how we interact with information is different than how we did in the past. Just having students fill out the same old work digitally is not preparing them for the future. It’s just a paperless version of the past.

Elon Musk said that the skill of the future is creative critical thinking. That doesn’t come from filling out a digital worksheet. When choosing paperless options are we also considering how it allows for student creativity? If every student is submitting the same end product it is not creative thinking and it’s probably not critical thinking.

Critical thinking is hard to teach. It can not be one and done. If a student submits something and gets a grade and we move onto another assignment we are missing the opportunity to push the learning further. The zone of proximal development is the role of the teacher to take students farther than they can take themselves. This requires actionable feedback. When we give students feedback do we expect that they have to do something with it or is it just a digital note scribbled on a PDF or a comment left in the gradebook? If we want to push learning further technology helps us to move past the one and done assignments; to have a back and forth learning conversation.

With tools like Google Apps, one person does not have to be the holder of the work. With paper, or even a PDF, only one person at a time is interacting with the document. With a collaborative digital tool the student doesn’t have to wait for the paper to be handed back with a score (a killer for the learning process) but instead, the back and forth process is facilitated by both parties having simultaneous access.

Critical thinking requires a feedback loop.

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