W501 - Paperless Classrooms

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Sarah Dwyer
Dr. Margaret Thomas Evans
ENGL 501
December 5, 2012
Leaping Into the Unknown: Student Perceptions of Paperless Composition Classrooms
This paper is intended to act as a guide for improving the format and structure of paperless
composition classrooms. Its recommendations are based on responses to a 15-question survey
completed by 26 students currently enrolled in two paperless composition classes. 10 respondents come
from Ivy Tech Community College’s Elkhart campus and 16 come from Lake Michigan College’s Bertrand
Crossing campus. The ratio of male to female students is roughly equal with each class; however, the
majority of respondents from LMC skew younger as they are mostly high school students completing a
dual-enrollment program. The Ivy Tech class, by contrast, is made up of a more traditional mix of
community college students: some are working adults and others are of traditional college age. Overall,
students had a positive response to the paperless classroom setting, but indicated a variety of factors
that could be improved. This paper will discuss the questions raised by the survey, provide an overview
of the responses, and address possible solutions to the issues pointed out by the students.
Several semesters ago Ivy Tech Community College made the switch to having all of their
composition classes be paperless, a move that was met with some trepidation by students and teachers
alike. After the initial panic wore off, most people seemed to embrace the new format, if not
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comfortably, at least well enough to recognize the benefits of teaching composition in this style. Ivy
Tech made this move chiefly for financial reasons—keeping everything online saves the college a sizable
amount of money in paper and ink—but there were other benefits as well. Teachers no longer had to
carry around large piles of paper to grade, it no longer mattered if students lost syllabi because they
could always access them again, and it eliminated the always-puzzling task of trying to read someone
else’s handwriting. However, there were drawbacks as well: technology failures, incompatible
formatting, and CMS malfunctions caused and continue to cause their own amount of strife for students
and teachers alike. Despite these drawbacks, however, the use of paperless classrooms continues to rise
in colleges across the country, and will likely increase in the future as well.
While little literature exists about paperless classrooms at the college level, many classrooms
now are partially to entirely paperless. With the advent of so many different kinds of Course
Management Systems (CMS),some colleges--including Ivy Tech--have made it a requirement for
instructors to post, at minimum, syllabi and grades online. While each CMS is different, they tend to
follow the same overall structure, and principles of universal design can help to ensure that students are
able to access and understand the material well. Guides like Scott Warnock's Teaching Writing Online
and the National Writing Project's Because Digital Writing Matters provide useful guidelines for
designing the online components of a paperless course. Organization, clarity, and repetition are
emphasized as vital components of digital course design, as are the use of visuals and the importance of
brevity, since it can be difficult for students to read long stretches of digital material. On the practical
side of things, A.J. Ferguson has compiled a concise set of tips for instructors wishing to teach a
paperless classroom (including ideas for how instructors can alleviate the problems associated with
reading dozens of essays electronically), while quality assurance programs like Quality Matters can also
be used to assess the design and implementation of the digital components of a paperless course.
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Based on my familiarity with this literature and my experiences with teaching paperless and
online classes at Ivy Tech, I decided in August to make at least one of my classes at Lake Michigan
College paperless as well. I chose my composition class, ENGL 101, for this project. It had been a few
semesters since I last taught it, so I decided to go with an entirely new course design. (My other class
there is Technical Writing, which for the past year or so been a combination course with some
assignments due on paper and others due on the CMS.) In the spring I plan to have all of my face-to-face
classes be paperless. It is for this reason that I decided to survey my classes to see what they liked and
disliked about the paperless course design, so that I can improve the structure for the spring. While the
responses I received were overall positive, I found some surprising; but all of them useful for shaping my
thinking about how to improve my course designs for the next semester.
This paper will be divided into sections, addressing first the questions in the survey about that
topic, then the student responses, and then the means of improving that particular area of the course. I
drew on a variety of sources for inspiration, including a sizable amount of information about online
courses, as the design aspect of online course design crosses over very well with paperless course
design. I have found very little about paperless classrooms in and of themselves outside of anecdotal
evidence about what has worked for others, and while I can apply my own experience to this project as
well, I think it would also be worthwhile to distribute surveys similar to this one to multiple classes
instead of just two in order to trace student responses to paperless course design on a grander scale.
The survey I designed consists of 15 questions about the paperless course design and student
responses to it, with room for students to provide commentary if they so desired.1 While this means
that the data is not really that mathematically significant, it also means that the responses I received
were very personalized and detailed, which was one of the goals of this particular study. 26 students
participated, although not all of them answered every question. (A group of about five of them from the
See Appendix B for survey as students first encountered it.
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Ivy Tech class only completed the front page of the survey.) The questions were based on my own
observations of student behavior, and were left mostly open-ended so that students could provide
detailed commentary if they so wished. Ironically, the survey, despite being about a paperless
classroom, was done on paper, as the survey option in Blackboard was not adequate to the task. (I was
having a lot of trouble trying to get it to enable the anonymous response option.) Despite these
constraints, I think the survey was very successful, as it provided me with useful feedback for the future.
Section One - Student Preparedness (Questions 1-3 and 9, 10, and 12)
One topic that generated a lot of interest for me was the issue of student preparedness.
Question 1 asked, “How did you react to the news that this was a paperless classroom?” Students were
given three options to circle, “Positively,” “Neutrally,” and “Negatively,” as well as room to write down
their comments. Overall responses were positive, with 15 students responding positively, 9 neutrally,
and 2 negatively. One student who chose “Positively” also included the comment “Not necessarily true,
but I was shocked,” while another who made the same choice added “I normally lose papers.”
This was one response that rather startled me. I had expected more students to respond
negatively, though the data was potentially affected by the absence of one of my most technophobic
students on the day when the survey was administered. Given that the bulk of the responses were
neutral to positive, I think it's safe to assume that most students don't have a problem with the concept
of a paperless classroom, but I also get the feeling that they're rather wary because the idea is
somewhat unfamiliar. Some students, of course, have also taken other classes where their work was
submitted online, and those students unsurprisingly had very positive responses to the survey overall.
Question 2 asked “How prepared did you feel to begin working with the course management
system? (In this case, for both classes, it was Blackboard 9.1.) Responses here were more mixed, with 12
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students stating they felt well-prepared, 8 somewhat prepared, and 6 unprepared. When asked in
Question 3 about their current levels of comfort with Blackboard, 25 said they were very comfortable,
with only one saying they felt somewhat comfortable. According to one student, “I had never used
Blackboard before but now I see that it is not too hard to use.” This student was also one of the ones
who stated that they were “very comfortable” using Blackboard now. This was to become a running
theme throughout the survey, as most students seemed to adapt to the paperless classroom very
These responses were more or less what I expected. I've long held the belief that students need
to be aware of how all of the electronic communication in a college works, especially given that on the
first day of class there tend to be all sorts of problems with the technology. I've had students not know
how to log in (to either the CMS or to the campus websites), not know their passwords, not know how
to access their school email, and not know that any of these things were even available to them. It is for
this reason that on the first day of class I always do a Blackboard walkthrough with my students,
showing them how to log in, find the course materials, comment on the discussion boards, submit
assignments, and so on. I also explain the possible software and hardware issues they may encounter,
and answer questions about format, which browsers work best with the CMS, and which programs I
recommend that they use.2 I also require (at least in the cases of my own course design, which in this
case means ENGL 101 and 103 for LMC) that they familiarize themselves with the course website and
then send me an email acknowledging that they've gone through it and addressing any questions that
they have about it. This ensures that everyone knows where to find everything, and that they can use
their school email properly.
I strongly suspect that because I do this, and because so many of our students spend a lot of
Generally I recommend Firefox for a browser and OpenOffice for a word processor if they can't afford the student
version of Microsoft Office. I also emphasize the importance of using the .rtf file format for assignments-something which I plan to insist on for all of my classes in the future.
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time with technology anyway, students get comfortable with the system relatively quickly, usually
within the first few weeks or so. I do, however, still wind up answering questions like "Where do I
submit this?" or "Where's that link?" on a fairly regular basis throughout the rest of the semester. I think
part of the trouble stems from the fact that some students have difficulty differentiating between the
kinds of links that exist on Blackboard. This is a concern with students who might have any sort of visual
or reading disability. To my own eyes, for example, the standard Blackboard layout I have to use for my
Ivy Tech courses is somewhat clunky and awkward to navigate, while the design for my LMC classes
seems, at least to me, to be much smoother. (It is still stuck in Blackboard's more or less usual
framework, but at least the color scheme is better than Ivy Tech's green and beige.) A good usage of
universal design principles can come in handy here, although I haven't applied them as much as I
probably should.
As Michael Neal explains, we must consider accessibility for our students to give them all equal
chances of understanding the material--or at least chances as equal as we can possibly make them. We
have to keep in mind that there is a double framework of navigation involved with any computer
interface, and that having computer access does not necessarily mean that the documents in question
are accessible to everyone in the student population (Neal). In practical terms, making our materials
accessible can mean anything from having multiple versions of a text for students to read (in a paperless
classroom, this would mean letting them print out whatever documents they wish, as I do, or allowing
them to manipulate the text so they can understand it better) to making sure that there are subtitles
available for any videos students watch, as Melissa Helquist suggests (Helquist). While I do this
somewhat already--the videos I use generally come from YouTube, which has a CC option, and I always
include tags with any images so students with slow connections or poor vision can at least have a
description of the image--there are a few particulars that I'm likely to change in the future. Cheri Spiegel,
in her explanations for how she changed the design of her own hybrid courses, discusses the use of
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consistency, color, and icon representation to improve student comprehension of available online
course materials (Spiegel 250). Consistency is not an issue with my own course design--each section is
structured the same as the others, to give students a sense of familiarity with what they are looking at-but the use of color and icon representation is something that I will experiment with in the future. I
originally shied away from the idea of using icons, but now I think they could provide a useful visual
shorthand for students so that they can understand what kind of link and assignment they are looking
at. Blackboard already uses icons to do this, but I don't think my students understand them particularly
well, as there are no identifying indicators within Blackboard to tell students what each icon means.
Solving this problem could be as easy as going over what those icons mean at the beginning of the
course, with a few weekly reminders. My students should be able to pick this up very quickly, as 25 out
of 26 students say they are now very comfortable with Blackboard--further proof that just practicing
with it will help them improve, as I always explain at the beginning of the semester.
Questions 9, 10, and 12 also had to do with student preparedness. Question 9 asked, “Should
students be required to pass a computer literacy test before taking a class that follows the paperless
format?” 10 students said yes, 11 said no, and 2 said maybe. Students who said yes tended to do so
because taking a paperless class requires a working knowledge of computers, while students who said
no tended to base their responses on the belief that the technology is easy to pick up. This also ties into
Question 10, which asked “Should students have Blackboard training before taking a paperless class?” 8
students said yes, 10 no, and 5 said that a little training would suffice. Students who said no tended to
do so because they felt Blackboard was easy to learn, while those who said both “yes” and “a little”
thought that some guidance would help students settle into the course better.
These responses surprised me, although in retrospect they do make sense. I assumed most
students would have preferred at least some Blackboard training before taking a paperless course,
mostly because I had a student withdraw just this summer because she couldn't manage the technology
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aspect of the course; and this was borne out by the students' responses. My surprise was mostly tied to
Question 9, "Should students be required to pass a computer literacy test before taking a class that
follows the paperless format?" I had assumed that most students would say no simply because no one
would enjoy the idea of taking yet another placement test, but my students' responses were more
nuanced than that. Both students who said yes and students who said no emphasized the importance of
being computer literate to be successful in a paperless classroom, but were divided on how best to
ensure that literacy. As one student who answered no to Question 9 explained, "If you take time you can
actually explore Blackboard and learn everything you need." Another student who answered no said
"there's (sic) tutors to help with people that are not fluent w/computer knowledge," which I think is an
important thing for anyone teaching a paperless classroom to keep in mind. It's very easy to get bogged
down in the technology, and to spend all of one's time answering technical questions instead of contentrelated questions, but we need to remember that there are other resources available, and not all
questions need to be answered specifically by instructors. This of course doesn't stop us from playing
troubleshooter while in class--I do this usually about once a week--but I also pass the question along to
our technology department when I don't know the answer.
Question 10, about Blackboard training, was more along the lines of what I was expecting. Most
students responded positively, with 13 students saying that a little or more training would be helpful.
Those who said no tended to include caveats such as the following: "I think most of the teachers gave a
nice overview of how [Blackboard] worked, the rest was pretty self-explanatory." Another student who
also answered no had a similar comment: "I like how you taught us how to use it on the first day of
class." Other students who answered no said "Blackboard is not that hard to catch on to," and "you can
learn as you go." These responses, along with my own experiences teaching with Blackboard, have given
me the impression that as long as the instructor does a good job of introducing the course management
system, most people will pick up on it very quickly. One useful suggestion comes from Scott Warnock's
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Teaching Writing Online: "Are there any particular skills sets that your students might need to perform
well in your course? Are there expectations that they know how to engage in a particular level of
research? That they can operate or possess a certain software? ...you can list these expectations in the
syllabus, including any links that might help them" (Warnock 44). In the case of a paperless classroom,
the list and the links can remain on the electronic syllabus, and the expectations can be discussed on the
first day of class. Students could then be directed to resources to help them learn to use the CMS, such
as the Blackboard Boot Camp that Ivy Tech occasionally puts on for students, or instructors could set up
a section of office hours dedicated to helping students learn to navigate the CMS. Of course, plenty of
students use their own initiative and knowledge of resources to learn: some of my Ivy Tech students
have gotten help from the tutoring center when they were having difficulty navigating the digital
portions of the class.
Question 12, while having to do with student preparedness, asked a very different sort of
question: “Should there be indicators in the course catalogue for which courses are paperless like there
are for hybrid and online courses?” 17 students said yes, 4 students said maybe, and only one student
said no. This essentially confirmed a belief of mine that students should be forewarned, although I know
I would have difficulties trying to get this listed in the course catalogue at either of my institutions.3
What I've considered instead is sending out an email, perhaps a week before the first class session,
explaining what the paperless classroom is and how it functions. This would then give students the time
to change their mind and switch their classes around if they wished, or at least give them some time to
adapt to the idea instead of dropping it like a bombshell on the first day of class. I've noticed that
student first-day jitters tend to grow worse once they learn it's a paperless classroom despite my
reassurances that they'll be fine. They are generally fine in the end, of course, but having them learn
Ivy Tech, as was mentioned, switched over to having all of the ENGL 111 classes be paperless with what seemed
like very little warning for the students. Though instructors had long known about it, every time I tell a new class
that, a few of them always seem to be surprised.
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about the format only once the class has already met can be an extra stress, especially for students who
are anxious enough already. This is particularly important to keep in mind for adult students, who "are
less likely to have the academic currency and cultural capital of their younger peers," which in a
paperless classroom tends to manifest as more discomfort with technology and technology-based
communication (Cleary 364). A little bit of warning could go a long way in making students comfortable
with an unfamiliar setting like a paperless classroom.
Section Two - The Problems of a Paperless Classroom (Questions 4-7)
Questions 4-7 were open-ended questions about student experiences with, and responses to
the paperless classroom, in both positive and negative ways. Question 4 asked "What have you had
difficulties with when using Blackboard?" as Blackboard acting up is a common complaint in all of my
classes. Most responses were as expected, with eight students expressing frustration with its tendency
to work slowly or act up on occasion, especially when many students are trying to use the system at the
same time. While there is little an instructor can do about fixing the CMS itself, other students had
comments that were more useful. Two students said that it can be difficult on occasion to find things,
with a third commenting that she had a hard time at first because she "had no idea what [Blackboard]
was or how to go about using it. It was hard at first, but [she] quickly picked up on how to find and
submit assignments." It's been my experience that questions about where materials are located can be
easily answered within the classroom itself, and generally when I tell my students to pull something up, I
also let them know where it is located, and go through the search process for the item on the projector
screen so that they can follow along with the material. I've also been known to rearrange where things
are so that students can find them more easily, particularly with the ENGL 111 class I teach at Ivy Tech.
The page design is adequate, but more than once I've moved things around, created new folders, and
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posted shortcuts to other places on the course website to make it easier to navigate. 4
Question 5 asked "What do you like about the paperless classroom?" 9 students commented
that it was useful for keeping things from getting lost, with one commenting that now their "bag is less
messy". Another 6 students said that it was useful to have all of the information there and available at
all times, while 9 had comments about how the paperless classroom saved paper, ink, and printing
costs. I was a little surprised that so many students felt positively about the organization issue:
organization is key for the instructor, but I hadn't really considered it from a student's point of view,
although I can easily see how having all of the materials constantly available would make things much
easier for them.
One thing to keep in mind is that although a well-organized paperless classroom makes life
much easier for the instructor, the design itself can be incredibly time-consuming. For Lake Michigan
College’s ENGL 101 class, I spent an entire day just arranging the information on the course website-only to discover during our first class meeting that I’d left something out. I had to upload the file from
my flash drive in the classroom. Another organizational issue that exists for instructors but not students
is the question of file names: A.J. Ferguson suggests having students use a structured system of file
naming so that one does not end up with a total of twenty files saved to one desktop, all entitled
"Annotated Bibliography" (Ferguson).5 Despite the added stresses of the required course design, things
do become exponentially simpler for students, who tend to keep things much more organized so long as
they know how their flash drives work. I think this is another reason to test their tech-savvy before they
take a paperless class--I recently had to explain to one student that he couldn't access the paper that
was on his computer at home from the computer in the classroom because that's not how computers
See the image in Appendix A, "Ivy Tech Course Design" for an example of what the course website looks like, as
well as a few links I posted so that students could access them more quickly and easily than they could by
navigating through the course website (an often sluggish process).
This could be something as simple as requiring that students put their last name first before the rest of the file
name--making it look something like "Dwyer_Essay1" rather than just "Essay1".
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work, and to tell another that the reason her file didn't attach was because she pulled her flash drive out
of the computer while it was uploading.
Question 6 asked "What do you dislike about the paperless classroom?" I was surprised that 11
students said there was nothing they disliked about the paperless classroom; and the most common
complaint was a logistical one: 5 students said that the paperless classroom’s inherent presumption of
off-campus computer access negatively impacted their ability to do their work. Two students
commented that they missed writing by hand, and another stated that because they are a slow typist, it
takes a long time to complete assignments. The students' chief concern is one I share--I have had a
number of students who only have access to a computer when they are at school, or have limited access
at home; and while those students have completed the course successfully, it's also been more difficult
for them than I would have liked. This is especially true of students who have limited transportation
options as well, who might not be able to take their laptop to the nearest Starbucks’, or those who don't
have a personal computer at all and can't often make it to their local library. I am unsure as to how to
solve this problem, especially in this era of ever-shrinking budgets, and generally the way I've dealt with
this issue has been on a person-to-person basis, allowing students with such problems to submit their
work while in class even if it wasn't originally due on that day. This is something that every instructor will
encounter as our classes go more and more digital, and I think in the end we will all end up making our
decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Question 7 asked "What would you change?" 15 students said nothing, while 3 said they would
prefer an improved layout for the CMS, and two suggested involving some paper lessons. In my ENGL
101 class, there is a paper-based component in the course, but it comes in the form of handwritten
notes that I check for completion--nothing is submitted on paper, and this is not something which I am
willing to change, as grading handwritten work is much harder than grading a paper electronically. (It
also saves my students the trouble of having to read my handwriting, which is occasionally a problem in
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my ENGL 103 class.)
Section Three - Open-Ended Questions (Questions 11, 13, and 15)
Question 11 asked "What do you wish someone had told you at the beginning about taking a
paperless class?" A number of student responses had to do with preparedness. Two students stated that
they wished they had known to brush up on their computer skills beforehand, while one student said
that they wished they had known that they would need Internet access at home. Several also wished
they had known that they "wouldn't have needed to buy extra supplies" and that they "wouldn't take
stuff all the time." (By which they meant they wouldn’t need to carry too many supplies around-students in my paperless classrooms generally carry the textbook, a notebook, and a flash drive, and
nothing more.) One of the more interesting responses was from one student who wished she had
known "to not be apprehensive about a paperless class because now I know they aren't so bad." I think
the solution I mentioned in section one, of sending out an email explaining the course format before the
class actually meets, would go a long way in preventing these kind of concerns from occurring.
Question 13 asked "Do you have any recommendations for how to improve the digital portion of
the classroom?" All of the Ivy Tech students said no or did not answer the question, while the responses
from the LMC students were more varied. One student said, "make it appealing to the eye! As of now,
it's a bore." Another student said "iPads would be nice so people without access to a computer would be
able to get assignments." A third said "have a mix of traditional and paperless class to accommodate
everyone." I am already planning to improve the visual aspects of the course design in the future, as was
mentioned in section one, but I can’t estimate the efficacy of iPads for a composition classroom, as I've
never used one myself. I think I'd prefer to experiment with it beforehand before making that kind of
decision, especially because I'm not sure how well the CMS would actually display on an iPad, much less
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how well one could use the library databases and type up papers. The comment about having a mix of a
traditional and paperless class I found interesting because a number of my students actually do this
already, by printing out whatever materials they find most useful in hard-copy format. One thing I have
noticed is that they tend to ask for permission first before they do this, and then after that become
more confident about printing out whatever they need. I've noticed that they do this in particular with
their peer-reviewed rough drafts: I always use Word's commenting feature to address any issues in their
writing, and everyone in the LMC class picked this up as their tool for giving each other comments in
their peer reviews. Now several of them print out their rough drafts with the comments that other
students give them, and then hand-edit that hard copy before revising their electronic draft.
Question 15 asked "Do you have any further comments on the paperless classroom?" Most
students who answered this question had a positive response, with five students commenting on its
efficacy. One student pointed out the major issue with a paperless classroom: "You basically have to rely
on a computer." We may be in trouble, for example, if the power is knocked out at any time, although it
would be a simple matter to rearrange things like due dates, or simply to switch over to handwritten
assignments for a time. The most detailed comment came from a student who said "It was nice to have
a change from a traditional classroom, I felt more organized and had the want to turn things in on time
more so than in a classroom like in high school. There it is easier to get away with late assignments so I
was able to push myself to get stuff in on time." Another interesting and insightful comment came from
one student who said "[Paperless classrooms] help the learning environment by fitting into how many
younger students learn. (Electronically that is.)"
Section Four - Miscellany (Questions 8 and 14)
Question 8 asked "Would you prefer a paperless classroom, traditional classroom, or a
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combination?" Interestingly, no students chose the traditional option. Instead, 12 chose paperless and
12 chose a combination. One thing I overlooked when designing this question was how exactly they
would prefer that combination to work, or what they think it might look like. I currently teach and have
taught with combined paperless and traditional classrooms, but because I strongly prefer the paperless
format despite the extra work involved in designing it, I don't think I'm willing to go back. As a course
designer for a paperless classroom, I know that I am operating from a certain set of assumptions and
privileges, but at least in my experience the kind of comfort level with technology that is required by the
paperless course is also a necessity in most workplaces as well. In essence, "boundaries are being set
that the users must learn to negotiate, assimilate, and perhaps recreate to achieve literacy within a
digital environment and to use the environment to fulfill certain composing tasks" (Romberger 259).
Certainly my paperless courses are digitally-intensive, and some might say that this is an added stress on
students; but required course objectives for all of the composition classes I teach include the use of
computers for the purposes of information retrieval and sharing. Aligning online and paperless
classrooms with specific course objectives is in accordance with the principles of the course-review
system Quality Matters, which is a program designed to certify the quality of hybrid and online courses.
This training has informed much of my design choices for my paperless classrooms, where brevity,
clarity, and repetition of information are emphasized. This is the reason behind my willingness to repeat
things often, and my insistence on the importance of demonstrating how to work the system as often as
students require. It is for this reason that I think anyone who wishes to teach in a paperless classroom
must have an abundance of patience, for multiple reasons. As Cheri Spiegel points out, "[student]
experiences with technology had likely reinforced their tendency to implement hyper-reading practices6
Hyper-reading practices are the reading practices most people use when encountering documents online, and
include skimming, looking for specific headings, and looking at particular parts of a webpage. When reading a
printed book, for example, one reads left to right, top to bottom, and when reading a webpage one skims across
the top, then down slightly, and to the left, following an F-shaped pattern. This is the reason why every CMS has its
navigation bars situated across the top and down the left side of the screen.
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when reading on the screen," and this type of skimming and selective reading means that it is not
sufficient to simply post all of the course materials and expect students to read through all of them
independently--we must also present the material to them in a multitude of ways such that they can
actually absorb the information (250).
Question 14 asked "Have you used a different kind of course management system? (Sakai,
Canvas, Angel, ecollege, etc.) If so, which one do you prefer? Why?" Only three students had worked
with another CMS before, and it didn't seem to leave much of an impression on them. One student
explained "In IUSB I used a different system although I don't recall the name. I prefer Blackboard."
Another who had used SMC Wired (the CMS for Southwestern Michigan College, another community
college in the area) commented, "Both seemed the same to me except the formatting and the way you
submit assignments is different. There is also not a discussion board on SMC Wired." The third student
said that they had used Angel before, but preferred Blackboard. It seems like students have a general
preference for whatever they are most comfortable using, which of course at this point in time would be
Blackboard. Within my own teaching experience, I have found that I prefer Blackboard over ecollege,
but this may again be an issue with comfort levels. We will have to see what happens in the future, as
Lake Michigan College will soon be switching over to using Canvas instead, and I haven't really begun to
experiment with that format as of yet.
In general I am very pleased with the results of my survey, although I wish I could have targeted
a larger number of students. Student responses to the paperless classroom have been generally positive,
and I've managed to discover some persistent issues that I will now be able to address. I'm also glad to
have found that there's agreement between both myself and my students about so many issues. (How
much the students have been influenced by my own attitude is a question I do not really know how to
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answer.) The main problems my students have pointed out are design ones, which are solvable,
although my attempts to solve them in the future will be highly experimental. I realize now that I've
been a little too textual in my design, which is a reflection of my own experiences as both a so-called
"digital native" and as an instructor of English. The visual rhetoric of the interface I use is rather staid
when it doesn't have to be, and because I myself spend ridiculous amounts of time devouring textual
information online, it can be hard for me to process that others simply can't deal with that volume of
information in the same way. I am also coming from a place of privilege given my own levels of comfort
and familiarity with technology, but I don't think this is avoidable given the trends we've seen happening
in workplaces over the past twenty years. They cannot be ignored, and as paperless classrooms become
more popular, we must all learn to adapt to this format despite its drawbacks. Instead of being content
with my current paperless class structure, I plan to implement the changes I've discussed in this paper
for my spring classes, and then survey those classes to see where I can make further improvements. I
think this will be key in improving my classes over the years.
One issue I do see as troubling is that the technology is constantly changing, and it can be
difficult to keep up with both as a teacher and as a student. While there really isn't much of a difference
on a practical level with most paperless, hybrid, and online courses, at least in terms of the online
structure, one does have to become familiar with a variety of systems, which can be time-consuming
and expensive if one continually has to train and re-train faculty to use them. There is also the issue of
uneven applications across the board--some teachers only use Blackboard for grading, for example, and
others use it for everything, which means that some students are getting a more comprehensive
experience with digital media and composition, and others are not. While this will always be an issue
with any class, as more and more classrooms go paperless, schools will have to find the resources to
continue to train teachers in using digital technology.
Dwyer 18
Works Cited
"Applying the QM Rubric." Quality Matters. MarylandOnline, 2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.
Cleary, Michelle. "Anxiety and the Newly Returned Adult Student." Teaching English in the Two-Year
College 39.4 (2012): 364-376. Print.
Ferguson, A.J. "Tactics for Teaching (Almost) Paperless Writing." Chronicle of Higher Education 57.36
(2011): n.p. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.
Helquist, Melissa. "Digital Gateways: Redefining Literacy Through Disability Studies and Universal
Design." Conference on College Composition and Communication. America's Convention Center,
St. Louis, MO. 22 Mar. 2012. Conference Presentation.
National Writing Project. Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and
Multimedia Environments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.
Neal, Michael. "Accessibility Is the New Access: The Ethics of Multimedia Composition." Conference on
College Composition and Communication. America's Convention Center, St. Louis, MO. 22 Mar.
2012. Conference Presentation.
Romsberger, Julia. "An Ecofeminist Methodology: Studying the Ecological Dimensions of the Digital
Environment." Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues.
Creskill: Hampton Press, 2007. 249-267. Print.
Spiegel, Cheri. "Representing Clarity: Using Universal Design Principles to Create Effective Hybrid Course
Learning Materials." Teaching English in the Two-Year College 39.3 (2012): 247-255. Print.
Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online. Urbana: NCTE, 2009. Print.
Dwyer 19
Appendix A - Ivy Tech Course Design
Appendix B - Survey Questions
Paperless Classroom Survey
Please answer all questions in as much detail as possible. If completing this survey digitally, please bold
your responses to the first three questions, and if completing it on paper, please circle them.7
How did you react to the news that this was a paperless classroom?
How prepared did you feel to begin working with the course management system (Blackboard)?
Neutral ly
Somewhat Prepared
I had hoped to offer a digital option for completing the survey, but that did not work out, a common issue that
everyone who plans to use a paperless classroom should be well aware of.
Dwyer 20
How comfortable do you feel working with Blackboard now?
Very Comfortable
Somewhat Comfortable
What have you had difficulties with when using Blackboard?
What do you like about the paperless classroom?
What do you dislike about it?
What would you change?
Would you prefer a paperless classroom, a traditional classroom, or a combination of the two?
Should students be required to pass a computer literacy test before taking a class that follows
the paperless format? Why or why not?
Dwyer 21
10 Should students have Blackboard training before taking a paperless class?
11 What do you wish someone had told you at the beginning about taking a paperless class?
12 Should there be indicators in the course catalogue for which courses are paperless like there are
for hybrid and online courses?
13 Do you have any recommendations for how to improve the digital portion of the classroom?
14 Have you used a different kind of course management system? (Sakai, Canvas, Angel, ecollege,
etc.) If so, which one do you prefer? Why?
15 Do you have any further comments on the paperless classroom?