Monday, January 14, 2013

paperfree?- we are not there yet

Last time I taught I had to decide if I would HAND OUT the HW or just say its posted (NOTE- I post it in any case.) This may seem old fashion but I think there is some psychological value to actually giving someone a piece of paper with HW 8 on the top of it. I also thought that perhaps my students would think this a strange notion and certainly my youngest great nephew and niece (both 6) will never see an assignment on paper. My classes were of sizes 40 and 20, so this is not a burden on copying (I do go paperless for my class of size bigger than 70).

I asked around and asked the class. Much to my surprise about 3/4 in each class wanted paper. Why? Speculation:

  1. They would rather I print it out then they print it out.
  2. Having the paper serves as a reminder to do it (my psychological point.)
  3. The want to have more trees cut down, hasten global warming, since that way the planet may die before the final.
  4. The youth of today are not quite as PAPER FREE as we think.
I also asked the students Do you think that in 10 years the students will prefer just posting the HW? Only half thought so, which surprised me. I think that the paperless society is coming at us much faster than that; however, I am also surprised its not here yet. So that semester I mostly gave out paper HW. But there was something else wrong with this scheme, and in the future I won't be doing it.
  1. I copied 40 HW's and only 30 people show up for class- so that really is a waste. I assigned 12 HWs, so that's 120 sheets of paper wasted. (CAVEAT- not totally wasted- I print out other papers on the backs when I can.)
  2. There were a few times when I gave out the HW, taught a lesson, then realized I wanted to ask something different. BETTER to make up MOST of the HW before the lesson, but then adjust it and post after the lesson.

My question for you: are your classes COMPLETELY paperless at this point? PROS and CONS? Also, when will this post seem quaint and odd? I thought it already was, but my students reaction says otherwise.


  1. I'm going extreme-paperless this semester. online discussions and reading responses in lieu of quizzes/exams; homeworks distributed, turned in, and archived electronically. mainly i wanted to try something different and since this is a project-focused course, it might kind of works. ask again at the end of the semester.

  2. I'm not paperfree yet. For most classes, I hand out solution sets on paper so that answers are not digitally searchable (assuming no one troubles to scan and post them). For some undergraduate classes, I do inclass exercises on paper. Exams are still all on paper. I'm not sure when I would transition most of these to non-paper methods.

    Problem sets and assignments I do all hand out electronically.

  3. Actually, no class I know is completely paperless.

    One class (programming) only needs a disclaimer (something like "I agree, that they may electronically process this personal information ...)

    All other classes have assignments that you have to hand in on paper. They argue, that if you cheat, at least you have to write it once. If you cheat with a computer written assignment, you can copy-paste without even reading it.

    Assignments you hand in
    I think assignments on paper have some advantages:

    1) You can quite easily write almost everything you want.
    For example, it is very easy to draw a scheme for what's going on in analysis III (similar to this one:, but it is hard to do this on the computer.

    2) No problems with special characters.
    In Germany, umlauts like "ü" or "ö" appear quite often. Sadly, many applications still have problems in saving them (for a beginner, it's not so easy to get this work in LaTeX)

    3) Reliability
    Before Christmas, we had for some hours severe problems with the network at KIT. And KIT has over 24,000 students.
    I am a tutor for a programming class. They could not hand in their assignments at the end of the deadline, so they got one extra week. You simply don't have such problems with paper. It works 24/7.

    4) Rendering
    If you take your assignment, it looks identical if you get it back (well, apart from the correction, of course).
    If you have a web service, it is very likely that it will look different on every device you take. This is (according to a Prof. who teaches neural nets) bad for learning.

    I print every script I have, as I want to take notes. This is not as easily possible with electronic devices.

  4. Why do you think your youngest great nephew and niece will never see an assignment on paper? They are likely about to start getting paper assignments in school if they haven't already. Not everyone has a computer at home. Certainly not everyone has a computer OF THEIR OWN at home.

    1. Ah- good point, in KINDERGARDEN and such their geneation will
      still see paper.

      I think in college they may never see paper.

      I wonder if their great nephews and nieces will see paper in

  5. As a student, my major reason for preferring my homework on paper hasn't been listed yet: if it's on paper, I'll actually do it!

    When riding the bus, sitting in a dull lecture/meeting, or getting away from my desk, I always have a folder of relevant papers around to look at, and don't necessarily have the internet (or even my computer). Having an assignment on paper means I get many more opportunities to "accidentally" think about it.

  6. My class is completely paper free (on my side) but the students like to print my slides and add them annotations while I am teaching. All assignments are delivered in word and graded electronically.

    I don't think that having paper HWs makes a difference in student copying in my case, because I don't have complex equations or graphics, so many of the students already write their works in word and would give me a printed copy anyway.

  7. Students asking professors for paper copies of assignments may still reflect an environmentally conscious outlook. A professor is more likely to have access to the department photocopier that (we hope) is more efficient in power, toner, manufacturing resource, &c. than 40 students' 40 personal printers. There's also the cost issue: even if students have personal printers, it's still cheaper to have someone else print an assignment than to print it themselves.

    1. but why print the assignment at all?

  8. My classes are almost entirely paper free, apart from exams and the syllabus that I hand out at the beginning of the semester. I've been paper free at that level since I started teaching in 2008, and to be honest it never even occurred to me to do it otherwise! I've never had a student ask me for paper copies of anything either.

    PS. I am 34 years old.

  9. Our programming classes are paperless. For theory classes (e.g. logic, computability theory, complexity theory), we hand out paper, even though the sheets are also online; they normally don't have a laptop with them to do theory.

  10. The only times in the last 4 or so years that I've provided paper anything, it's been because I wanted students to use the paper then and there in class. (Exercise to be done in small groups and discussed, for example.)

  11. I've provided my assignments in PDF form only for over seven years now. In the past, during office hours, I'd notice that students had printed them and carried them in their binders. However, for the last two years whenever they need to refer to a question they whip out their smart phones and open the PDF on the spot.

    Assignment submission is 100% electronic, though some students still write their answers in paper and submit a scanned version of the paper version.

  12. So... the lecture ends. All that new knowledge, delivered by the lecturer who has a deep understanding. I still have gaps to fill in by studying my lecture notes (e.g. details of proofs, specifics) but I get why this is important. I get why the lecturer spent time to make sure we know that and perhaps spent years to do relevant research. Plus, I've got one week to hand in the assignment, which is itself a challenge. I get up from my seat and already my heart is beating faster than normal. I grab the piece of paper, skim over it and think. Maybe I approach a friend who is doing the same and ask him his opinion. Yeah, ex 1 is easy. Whoa- how do you approach the 3rd one?

    And this comes at the cost of 3 A4 pages per semester per student ?

    When the last cheesy romance novel has been written and when politicians and corporations stop using gigantic billboard ads , I'll consider going paperfree.

  13. Growing up with the Internet, I've become accustomed to the gentle embrace of LED lighting. After years of staring at a computer screen, I'm now //physically unable// to read from paper. The doctors say I may soon end up like Geordi La Forge. C'est la vie!

    Here's a haiku I wrote to capture my deep feelings.
    I call it "Ode to LED":

    Oh Great LED
    Your warmth caresses my eyes
    Forget that bright sun