As a former English teacher, I always made every student in my secondary and higher Ed. classes print out their paper. I would collect rough drafts, have them staple them to the final, and I would lug them home only to spill coffee on them while editing log into the evening. I would speak to my students in the margins of their papers and comment in detail at the end of the essay. I even used a green pen because some thought it to be more kind when correcting a comma splice or fragment than a red one. For me, and many teachers, this process worked.
A few years ago, while teaching my English 101 college composition course, I decided to eliminate paper from my class. I spent my first class showing my students how to use Google docs. For many of the students, Google docs came easy. I outlined my new procedures early on in the class.
At the beginning of an essay…
- Open a new document
- Title it along with Paper #___
- Share it with me
That was the simple procedure I used for each of the five essays that the college required to complete during this course.
This procedure also allowed me to assess my students periodically as they traversed through the writing process. No longer did I impose rough draft deadlines. In turn, I followed the process. I set aside an hour and a half each night to check in with my twenty students. I would provide them comments in the margin when needed. When a student wanted to conference about an essay, we utilized the chat window or conversed through comments. It was a simple, effective work flow for all involved.
However, this process did not happen overnight. It took time to adjust to this process. But, I had overwhelming support from my students who said that this process helped them through the writing process that is usually done in isolation. Plus, they could access the revision history and see an exact timeline of the writing process. Many of my students said this feature made writing a more enjoyable experience and allowed them to see their work, their writing process all in one place.
For me, I was no longer confined to the stack of papers. I could check in on their work as long as I had a web-enabled mobile device and a connection to the Internet. Plus, I could organize all of their papers in folders, and subfolders through my Google Docs screen. My students didn’t lose their paper, and had a cloud-based application that would save their work as they typed and allow them to access and edit their work from multiple devices.
With the recent updates to Google Drive (Google Docs) on the iOS devices, students and teachers can access, edit, and work on assignments almost anywhere. And I am certain these mobile device features for Google docs will only get better. Overall, this simple, effective paperless solution worked well for my students and helped them through the writing process. In fact, I would say that it made them better writers and more aware of the process. I know that you, like me have grown to love the analog formats or the comfortable confindes of Microsoft Word, but it gets better. Trust me, it does. And if you find that the previous way works better for you and your students, please share your evidence along with student testimonials. I know that change can be difficult, but remember that it’s not about us. It’s about doing what is necessary to give our students a relevant, purposeful learning environment.
I encourage you to try this option in any of your classes and if you would like help setting it up, please see the help desk for assistance.