Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going paperless=1329 emails

While contemplating curriculum in Israel last year, I began looking at how students were working and studying.  I decided to offer an electronic option during my annual foray into things medieval.  Students could email me assignments, I would comment on them, return them, and count them the same as if the assignment had been printed out and handed in.  I thought a few kids would take advantage of this pilot.  What began as a trickle on January 18th, was a full blown flood by March 2.  Kids learned how to take screenshots of websites (quiz results), turn on and use document reviewing in Word (and Pages and OpenOffice!), and attach both text and graphic files in email.  By the end of the project, I was looking at around 75 emails a day from a class of 62 students.  When the project finally ended, I checked my project folder to find 1329 emails.  As a class, students had saved over 2 reams of paper!  Early on I was uncomfortable commenting electronically on kids' assignments.  I developed a few techniques that enabled me to feel quite comfortable with the whole process.  Outlook's attachment preview feature allowed me to view documents to decide if I needed to edit them.  This was a great timesaver.  Instead of attaching new comments every time, I found I could edit by just typing in the assignment itself, again saving time, and making it easier for both students and me to see the changes.

I found I needed to adjust my email workflow, too.  Usually, I check email roughly every few hours.  During the medieval project, I needed to check far more frequently.  Students began sending assignments right after school and continued through the evening.  While I might be caught up before dinner, another 25+ emails would often arrive while I was eating.  Most nights, I would not reply to any email after 2130, but emails continued well into the night, often being sent after midnight.  Yes, I learned a lot about my students' work habits!  Nothing like real-time research to teach me a thing or too about seventh grade sleep patterns.

So what did I learn from all of this?  What needs thought prior to next year?  Previously, my librarian had set up a reserve cart with approximately 100 books for kids to use during class research time.  This year, the cart was set up, but we kept it in the library instead of my classroom.  We used 4 books on a regular basis.  All other research was done online.  I found I could easily read/edit/correct assignments online.  Kids had no problems emailing them to me.  By the end of the project, some kids were bringing laptops, taking notes in class and sending them to me BEFORE class had ended!  Other kids were taking notes, editing assignments, and researching topics using their personal iPads.  Now, the medieval unit is document intensive.  I needed to access documents from wherever I was answering email.  Dropbox made it all possible.  Whether on the iPad, laptop, desktop, or friend's computer, Dropbox gave me access to all my medieval files.  Next year, I hope more kids choose the paperless route.

This year's medieval project by the numbers.....53 days, 62 students, 1329 emails, 3038 assignments turned in, 12 hours to assess projects and write comments.  Whew!  Time to get ready for the test.