Reflections on going paperless in class


Teaching without textbooks or notebooks

This term my students and I continued our digital journey together. We had our notebooks in Google Docs, and most of the content and learning resources were found online. At the end of the term, they have all their notes from class and homework, inserted with images from the blackboard, the projector screen and pictures of their brainstorming maps. All kept for as long as they want them, without demanding physical space. This will be very useful next school year!

However, some of my students expressed that they missed the textbook. They felt they lost control, and didn’t get the big picture without it. This became apparent before tests. The tests were designed to capture concepts and ideas we had discussed in class, not pages or tasks from a textbook, but I understood their concern. We brought the textbook back for our last topic, and the relief was apparent among these students, and quite a few parents too, who felt it was hard to help their students without a textbook! This is something to keep in mind when going paperless. We have both the students and their parents who need to find and understand the content we teach.

Most students kept the same Google document for all notes and images in one subject. This document became quite long by the end of the year! We found that using the outline function in Google Docs helped us navigate long documents. Whenever a student make a headline, it will pop up as an entry in the outline in the left margin of the document. Very handy! Nevertheless, not all my students chose to keep only one document for the notes in a subject. Some made a new document every time they had a lesson, or did a homework. If they used titles wisely, this was not a big problem. On the other hand, those who forgot to use titles, had endless documents to search through to find the right one, when prompted to share their homework in pairs or small groups in class. I learned from this that I will have to include digital structure, using folders, titles and outlines in documents in the beginning of each class I teach next school year.


Going paperless hasn’t meant we have not used paper at all. We have! This year I introduced my students to Sketchnoting. My inspiration is Sylvia Duckworth. (You can follow @sylviaduckworth on twitter, and maybe you will be inspired by her work too.) We made sketchnotes mostly when summing up the work we had done on a topic, and used a presentation to prompt ideas. The students loved making sketchnotes, and I was glad to set aside time to ensure everyone could make a good one.The actual paper with the sketchnote might soon be lost, but when the image is inserted in the Google Docs, the students keep their work, forever? You can see an example here. It is in Norwegian, but I think it illustrates the concept well:20160523_130753

International collaboration and co-creating content

Some of the materials we used this year, we created along with fellow students in other countries. My students in the elective subject “International Cooperation” wrote letters with their Italian and Lithuanian partners in our eTwinning project “Hostel Europe”. We used the eTwinning platform to establish teams, and they co-wrote letters in Google Docs. We wrote suggestions to our local administrations with suggestions to help integrate people who have had to migrate from their own country because of war. We printed the papers, signed them, and sent them to the Mayor in our towns. You can see our letters below. We also received a letter back from our Mayor, thanking the students for their concern and good ideas about integration!


In one of my classes, we also created an ebook using Calameo, with all the stories we made in our eTwinning project “The Old Man and His Fiat600”. This was a lovely project where my students collaborated with partners in Italy, France, Finland and Portugal in creating stories about a fictional figure “The Old Man” who we made a paper copy of, and sent from country to country. While he visited each country, we wrote stories, and made presentations about his visit, and shared in the eTwinning portal with all our partner students. We also used Padlet to let the students collaborate in international groups to create padlets about their free time, favourite dishes and summer greetings. Padlet is super easy to use, and a gift to all educators. It is free to use, and has endless possibilities! Go try it, if you haven’t checked it out yourself yet. Here is a picture of “The Old Man” when he visited us at Ramstad skole this term:


Each class added a small bag with small pictures of typical items from their countries. My students went on excursions outside of school in order to take better and more interesting photoes of him, from our neighboring city Oslo, and some took him along to their cabin in the mountains, to show our project partners more of our country’s nature. It was touching! Everyone was a bit sad too, when we sent him along to Portugal!

Next term, let’s make the textbook ourselves!

Going paperless has been a process for me. It started gradually, with using eTwinning and Google Docs, Evernote, Skype, and making videos in class. This year I went all in, and left the textbooks and notebooks behind. My students never questioned why we did this. It seemed natural to embrace technology which they use all the time anyway. After a while, some students missed the safety of the textbook, and some parents thought it was easier to help their teenagers when they had a textbook too. So, I keep this in mind going forward. Most students benefit from having book or a booklet when working with a topic. What I am thinking now, is that we are going to make that booklet ourselves next term!

I’d love to hear your ideas, and learn about your experiences when going paperless too. Inquiring minds want to know!