Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wrap that Red Herring in Paper

At a break during the in-service he hosted at our school, ed tech guru Will Richardson, inquired of one of our building administrators whether our school might consider going “paperless” since our students are now mandated to have laptops. Subsequently, Will blogged about this topic (Get. Off. Paper.)

To cut to the chase, the idea was floated to our staff in an email. I took this to be an discussion starter, but it was evident at our next faculty meeting that many people took this literally.

I think this was a red herring. First, it is clear that Richardson’s role is to serve as a provocateur. I think our administrator was also acting in that spirit. Nothing wrong with that. It is interesting to think of how we might be relying on paper out of habit. But if this was intended literally, it makes no more sense to me than saying we will go phoneless, twitterless, moodless, vcrless, or face-to-face less.

From my perspective we are in the midst of a communications revolution. Yes, the ebook is on the rise and the newspapers are in decline. But this is not to say that paper is useless. Making digital corrections on my students’ “papers” is s-l-o-w. Jotting a note to myself on a post-it is faster than powering up my laptop or iTouch. Collecting a pop quiz or creating a prompt for a class discussion is easier with slips of paper than machinery. Some may stake a “green” claim for going paperless, but I don’t think this holds up very well on closer examination, given the trouble with recycling electronics, and I would propose that setting a goal for reducing paper 15-30% would be much more reasonable.

On the other had, I think some of the staff members seized on going paperless as a red herring. Since it was relatively easy to demonstrate that paper had some advantages they did not have to overcome an argument that going digital also has many advantages in numerous circumstances. Instead, they could self-righteously contend that banning paper would strike a crippling blow to the classroom.

Thus, what could have been a very stimulating discussion degenerated into silliness.


cmrozman said...

I had to go to Wikipedia to find out the definition of red herring. Now that I am in the know it is a perfect phrase for the discussion. I had to bite my tongue a few times as I sat back in amazement at the direction of the conversation. When did we say we were going paperless? I wish now I had been wiser to see that it really was a diversion from the real conversation desired - what technology are you using? How will it change the way you teach?

wegervais said...

Exactly my point!! Colleen! Larry, you see through all this nonsense! Just to even plant the seed of somehow teaching a class without paper was taken as literal, although I must say that I'd love to see the volume of copying drastically reduced as a practical matter. Red herring? I'll take mine grilled!

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