It first occurred to me to go paperless when I started collecting papers via email. I never was a clear-off-the-dining-room-table grader; I was much more efficient on my laptop, just because that’s where I did all of the rest of my work. So once I stopped lugging home those bulging paper-folders, it occurred to me that I could go paperless in other areas.

Going paperless can be broken down into a few categories (much of this is based on this blog post):

  • calendar / organizing
  • notes / incidental writing / brainstorming
  • assessment creation
  • assessment grading
  • storage / organizing files for yourself
  • storage / organizing files for students or colleagues
  • communication

Here’s what I use in each category:

  • calendar / organizing: iCal / Calendar (Mac). iCloud has made this a viable calendar tool. My calendar isn’t terribly complicated, so this does fine for me, especially since I’ve been able to sync it with school’s GoogleCalendar. I’ve tried Agenda (iOS) and GoogleCalendar (and heard good things about Calvetica) but neither was good enough to replace iCal. I hope to use shared calendars with students this year for my syllabi, something I experimented with last year but wasn’t as effective because not everyone had compatible Mac devices, like they will this year.
  • notes / incidental writing / brainstorming: Evernote. Simple and effective. Essentially a simple word processor with a transparent and more easily navigable file storage structure (like most are). I also like Noteshelf but for a different kind of note-taking. Evernote allows me to put somewhere all those incidental bits of info that I don’t know where to put (and I know that I should be using things like Diigo or Delicious for part of this, but I’ve just not been able to buy in).
  • assessment creation (ugh): none consistently. That’s not to say that all of the ones I’ve tried are bad, but they seem to be tied to either whatever CMS we’re using or another technology. I began with the Promethean ActivVote system, which then morphed into the Promethean ActivExpression system. This is the one I’ve used the most and, if I had to choose, is probably the one I would choose. I’ve also used the quizzing / testing modules in Moodle and ItsLearning, neither of which I love (largely because it’s cumbersome to create the quizzes, e.g. ItsLearning defaults to three distractors, which means I have to add at least one more and then you can’t tab to the new ones) but are serviceable. I’ve used the quizzing / testing module on Engrade, which I don’t like, largely because it won’t transfer the grades to the gradebook until the quiz is closed, which you can’t do (or at least I don’t do) until everyone has taken it. I’ve used Socrative and eClicker, both of which are fine for incidental quizzing and polling but I can’t see committing a curriculum to either of them.
  • assessment grading: Microsoft Word Track Changes. All of the approaches above include self-grading for objective questions. For open ended questions, longer responses, and papers, for me nothing beats Word’s Track Changes. The downloading / uploading or emailing can be a bit cumbersome but for me it’s worth it. I don’t use comment bubbles / notes in the margins; everything is in text so all I have to do is scroll and position. Students can read my comments (with my handwriting a decoder ring is recommended) and, an unforeseen bonus, I have examples of student work to use when writing college recommendations.
  • storage / organizing files for yourself: Dropbox and iBooks. Pure and simple. Dropbox is one of those tools I would find difficult to replace at this point. I can’t fit my entire Documents folder in Dropbox, so it’s not my primary storage space (still have the desktop hard drive plus backup for that) but it’s indispensable for maintaining organization away from home because of its drag and drop capabilities, i.e. Dropbox does the uploading for you when you drag (either move or copy) files into the folder Dropbox installs on your disk, so that the file structure of my Documents folder, with which of course I am familiar, is maintained and so much more easily navigable. Dropbox is available for iOS devices (though you can’t edit via the Dropbox app) and more and more apps integrate Dropbox storage so you can create on your iOS device and save to Dropbox. And a final tip. Be the first at your school to get students on Dropbox; have them put their emails into your invitation screen and you’ll get 500 megs of free extra storage for each one that signs up. I’m up to 15+ gigs on Dropbox. I use iBooks as a convenient repository for things I might need to reference, so lists of students going on field trips, for example, etc. It saves me from printing and keeping track of them and the iPad and iBooks make them easy to access.
  • storage / organizing files for students or colleagues: Dropbox and CMS. I use the CMS (ItsLearning these days) for my primary means of distributing and collecting materials. As I’ve written about before, I’ve used Dropbox to collect things with success. In some ways, it’s easier than a CMS because there’s no uploading. Drag and drop and everything is submitted.
  • communication: GMail & Kikutext. I’m officially done with mail clients. I’ve not used my Mac Mail program in months (I do still use it for the Mail .pdf function, which is very efficient). GMail does everything I want it to and not much that I don’t. As I’ve written about elsewhere, I will experiment with Kikutext this year as I experimented with Twitter last year.

I would say last year I went about 90% paperless. The only thing I was using paper for were some reading packets and any (non-essay or objective) tests I gave. The reading packets at the end of the year I scanned and I still haven’t found a viable solution for my Latin tests. We’ll see. But going paperless is ultimately a decision. There are plenty of resources to do what you do on paper. You just have to commit to finding them, trying them, and committing to them (and the blog linked above has a wealth of resources, though the descriptions are somewhat repetitive).

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