Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Paperless Classroom

So for a couple of reasons I been spending time thinking about the paperless classroom, a classroom where assignments, grades, reading and so forth are delivered using digital services rather than well paper. What intrigues me more and more as I think about it is that the technology exists to do a lot of this stuff. Right now if a teacher wanted to they could make a lesson plan public via Google calendar or update a students grades via a shared spreadsheet. Being the technophile I am I really dig the idea so I've been rapping my head around how I would implement it. I'm not an expert in this stuff but using the public tools I have at my disposal how would I set up a digital classroom. I'm not talking about setting up a private server network or anything,  just what I could use with the tools I have on the cheap.

Before I get into how I would do it though there are a lot of barriers for entry as to why this stuff isn't more implemented as it is.

The Digital Divide
In order to make it fair,  you have to create a classroom in which every kid can participate and the sad truth is not every kid has a computer let alone a mobile device. Even if they did I just created another barrier to learning. Not only would the kids have to understand the material being taught but also all the digital crap.

Names and ID
Even if you tell the kids not to they will name themselves something stupid in the creation of the services I'm going to talk about. Normally it's not an issue but but when trying to create consistent spreadsheets and contact lists not being able to easily connect a username with an actual name might be a problem.

That said I also don't like the idea of just creating a bunch of accounts for the kids. That would be a security nightmare and I don't like the idea a teacher having the students email passwords. If I had more know how I suppose I could create a IFTTT rule to automatically put files into folders with student's real names but that is a little beyond me at least without some more research.

Privacy and Security
So if you're going to integrate social networking and cloud sharing into the classroom privacy becomes a big deal. I have very low privacy standards FOR MYSELF when it comes to these types of services because I just figure that's the deal. It's always a trade off for convenience and security. The most secure room in the world would have no door but then that defeats the point. I have a higher standard for kids, and I'm not a security expert so all I'll say is take it into account.

Distraction Action
Seriously if every kid had a device/computer in class there is no way they wouldn't go onto Facebook or do some other stupid thing. I guess you could put spyware on the computer but there are a thousand ways that could get really stupid,  and I object to it as a rule.

At the end of the day my philosophy has been a if you slack off you get what you get. The kids know the stakes and can act accordingly, but then that causes problems down the line as well. There is a world of difference between 12-year-olds and 14-year-olds.

Following Rules
This whole thing relies on systems. Which means directions would need to be followed to the letter and kids hate following directions.

The Pregame Show
So before class proper started there are some things I would like to do.

Technology Inventory and Letter to Parents
So the first thing I would do is send a letter explaining all of this stuff to parents along with a technology survey asking

  • Did the student have access to a traditional desktop or laptop computer?
  • Did the student have access to a smartphone or tablet?
  • Did the student have a device that could interface with a television
  • How comfortable is the parent with computers?
  • How comfortable is the student with computers
  • Did the student and/or parents have any existing email addresses or social media services
  • Did the student use any of the following services: Amazon Student, Google Account, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook,Twitter,

The results of the survey would determine how far I went with it. As a point of fact if I were an administrator I would factor technology level into how I grouped students into classes.

The School Allowance Idea
In Gregland (the fictional country that I rule in my head. Bow before your king and master.) a portion of educational dollars would be granted to each student as sort of a grant (well ain't that redundant) that would allow them to buy supplies including digital supplies as needed but that brings its own headaches. Young kids who barely know arithmetic are not going to budget that money well, and I've seen enough crappy parents to know someone down the line is going to find a way to steal the money for themselves.

Still I really like the idea of having a class amazon wishlist and giving the kids each a gift card on say a bi-semester basis to just buy what they needed. Every kid gets the right books, every kid gets standardized supplies, yet it's flexible enough so If they got what they needed elsewhere they can spend it on something else on the list. If  I still have paper from last semester I can buy extra pens.

Furthermore it would allow choice in format. Let's say you have some kids that really dig the idea of getting the book Kindle and others who aren't so hot on the idea.

Most of the schools around me don't have the money to just pull that and it would require really trusting the kids and the parents to budget the money out properly, but it would allow the school to guarantee each student had the right supplies which helps in the digital divide.

Guide Letter
Between the survey and the allowance the school could be reasonably certain about each student's access to technology. From there I would move on to sending out a letter explaining to the parents and the students which services (mostly free) they needed to set up an account on and naming formats, as well links to a blog/website explaining further and teacher/administrator contact info. Maybe I would send out all of this stuff with the usual schedules and letters.

The Block
When I was in middle school the teachers did something really creative and in retrospect I think it was ingenious. On the first day they set up class groups so that all the students in the group had the same classes with the exception electives. This allowed for a sort of collaborative effect with the teachers in that block. They all new the students, their other classes, and their other teachers and could plan around each other. They knew if the science teacher was planning a test on Wednesday or if the English teacher had group presentations.

I bring this up because it allowed all of the teachers in the block to have sort of a singular group orientation for each block, where they introduced themselves to the students, explained rules, and gave out basic materials for the semester. I'm thinking that setting up the technology could be part of that group orientation.

All the teachers could just take a day to deal with all of the house keeping, then take the kids down to the school computer lab in shifts.

Shared Calendar 
Each class could have a shared Google calendar. I know of a lot of schools that use online calendars, but I think a goggle calendar is the best way to go because it could easily be exported to what ever other apps the students were using. Further more each class could make more than one coordinate colors for, tests, quizzes, lessons, readings, homework given, and homework due. It would also allow the teacher to make easy adjustments.

Shared Class Folder
Students loose stuff. A looooooot. Having a shared class folder would be a good way of making sure students had easy access to additional copies especially if they were absent. You could even organize it. Class assignments, reading materials, fliers, seating charts.

Also since things are being shared in a digital format the students and teacher could easily share links, which could aid in multimedia learning.

A real out there idea is to archive audio recording of class and put them in the folder, as well as power point presentations and what have you,

Assignment Drop Box
Look this is the way I turned stuff in in college and it was great. The teacher would set a specific time, let's say an hour before class. And the computer would let them know if people were late. It's that simple.

Shared Individual Drop Box
A teacher could share with students pdf's of their graded assignments as well as an updated grade spreadsheet.

Skype and Google Hangouts
Digital Office Hours. 'Nough said. Well not quite I also wanted to point out how useful email mailing lists could be and Google hangouts seems like the best place to do it. Beyond that hangouts and skype would also allow students to classes to video conference with people who might not have the time and money to visit the class themselves. Imagine for instant a biology class being able to talk to a researcher in the Amazon, or a Congressional aide.

Group Projects
Office software these days is made for collaboration. Comments and changes tracking is great.

Evernote ...Notes
The best thing about ever note is that the text almost automatically is readable on what ever device you're working on and the notebooks and tags allow smaller notes to come together in bigger ways. I could easily see a teacher making a shared class note book and tagging things based on topic, date, and chapter.

Again I mostly want to keep this to stuff I could get on the cheap, not crazy $1500 smart boards, but a cheap Xbox 360 would allow for basic internet access and YouTube on a TV, and if a school is really broke a $100 Roku box will also offer YouTube.

I also know of a lot of software solutions that would allow presentations to be sync. I'm running a really old version of office but I think 2010 might let you do it as an integrated feature.

The Front End
I figure a good idea would have a website with links to all of this stuff also explaining it. It doesn't necessarily have to have all this stuff in html or even be all that flashy, just a page where people with the right credentials could just click a button and get to all of it, the calender, the shared folders, links to all the services, instructions on how it all works.

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