Paperless vs. Paper-full

When I first found out that the educational technology department wanted to give me iPads, my immediate thought was "I'm going paperless." Actually, my first thoughts went more like this: "Awesome! ... Oh crap. ... Maybe I can finally go paperless." So far I've had my share of "Awesome!" days and my share of "Oh crap" days. Surprisingly, most of my "Oh crap" days occur when I'm trying to eliminate paper.

I don't use a textbook, so I spend an inordinate amount of time creating and copying materials. I thought if I could go paperless in my iPad pilot class, it would save time, trees, and copy machine-related anxiety. However, while I have conserved maybe a branch of a tree thus far into my paperless quest, I have not saved myself time or anxiety.

First, I posted all of the documents and web resources that my students needed in a given lesson on my website. Not a bad idea; however, our district uses SharePoint, which is not very user-friendly and makes uploading documents, links and multimedia cumbersome. Plus, my students had so much trouble locating the required materials and making them usable on their iPads that I decided to move on to bigger and better things. I don't have time to create a new website, so I focused my attention on managing documents in the cloud.

Enter Quickoffice. This is a pretty great, if pricey, app for the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), and since our district uses Office exclusively, I figured it was the best tool for the job I needed to get done. I had shelled out the $14.99 to use it on my own iPad and have synced it to my Dropbox account, three Google Docs accounts and a Sugar Sync account (why so many cloud storage systems? stress-induced insanity?). Before my students received their iPads, I requested that the district pre-load some necessary apps onto the devices, and Quickoffice was one of them. Once the students seemed comfortable using the iPads in class for non-document related activities (taking photos, recording, drawing, using the internet, etc), it was time to push them into the 21st century by going paperless. First, I had to guide students in learning how to use the app (relatively painless). So once they accessed a file, they could modify it and save it to their iPad, as well as create their own files. But we were all still struggling with document delivery and submission. They struggled to find the files they needed, and I was sick of being inundated with emailed attachments for every class activity.

The wonderful tech department guys tipped me off that the district was going to adopt Google Apps for Education within the next six months, so I decided that Google Docs was going to solve my file management problem. Eventually, all of my pilot students got district Google accounts. I created a shared class folder for document "pickups" and personalized folders shared just between me and each student for document "drops." So a student now should be able to go to the shared class folder, copy the document, and paste it into their personal folder, which I also have access to.

This would have been a beautiful system if it weren't for the fact that Quickoffice doesn't have an easy copy-file solution within one cloud storage system. That is, you can't just drag a file from one folder to another within a cloud system (such as Dropbox or Google), because the file is MOVED, not copied. So students have to open the file, make a tiny change, tap "close" then "save as" and then, FINALLY, save the file to their own personal folder.

Awkward, but not insurmountable, you say? I say: spend two weeks in which almost every file has disappeared at least once and students have lost work because someone else didn't follow the protocol for copying shared files. I say: do fun, collaborative activities and waste time trying to find the one group document out of twenty-six personal folders. I say: forget paperless for now because I have too many other things to juggle in this class.

So today, I said good-bye to paperless--for now--and made copies of the response sheet students were to complete after listening to and reading an adapted segment of Don Quijote. The app that I had planned to use for the interpretive segment, VoiceThread (another amazing tool), didn't work quite the way I had imagined on the iPad, so I just projected the presentation I had prepared from the classroom computer and played the audio through the classroom speakers while the students responded on paper... just the way I had done in the non-iPad class. And you know what? It wasn't perfect, but it was fine. The students couldn't access the VoiceThread on their iPads or manipulate it themselves, but they met the class objective without the iPad.

Lesson learned?

Sometimes it's okay to let the technology go--especially when it ends up being about the app and not the learning goal.

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