A reflection upon paper versus digital assignments
October 5, 2021
With a quick shift to digital learning in 2020 and a plethora of new technologies available, teachers have to make a decision between continuing digitally or going back to paper. While thousands of websites create new teaching methods and places to submit schoolwork, paper provides the opportunity to annotate and hold a tangible copy of assignments. This begs the question: is it beneficial to teach entirely digitally, or does the classic paper and pencil still do the trick? Staff and students have opinions on both sides.
For hundreds of years, assignments have been written. Smart Boards and computers were unheard of as teachers printed out all learning materials. Some believe that the traditional methods still work and that paper is the way to go.
Paper is the preferred route for English teacher Leslie Lindsey. Lindsey believes that people spend more than enough time on devices already and would like to provide students with a chance to get off of technology.
“When I have the opportunity to put a printed text in front of a student or am able to assign a writing piece that can be handwritten, I’m giving them a break and allowing them to practice skills that are becoming somewhat lost,” Lindsey said. “I love giving students feedback on their writing, and I find that typing into comment boxes next to online documents is just not what is best to transfer learning from piece to piece.”
Lindsey found that the quality of punctuation and grammar has decreased since the start of digital assignments. Due to computer technologies catered to students, spelling memorization and learning proper grammar is less necessary.
“My English one students complain that they have bad handwriting and don’t spell well. This is just fuel for my fire,” Lindsey said. “We don’t have to rely on our memory for everything or have 15 tabs open. We can sit down, problem solve and put the pieces of the puzzle together right in front of us. [Then we can] move forward into a new piece.”
Sophomore Dee Tummala saw these improvements in her handwriting and organization. She found drawbacks in slow websites and reliance on internet connection.
“I preferred paper assignments because I got satisfaction in completing them. I got to keep my work organized and have a hard copy,” Tummala said.
Writing notes on paper is also proven to help students learn better, as shown in a study by Scientific American reports Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer. Lindsey felt these benefits disappeared with the rise of digital curriculum.
“I feel like the student lost the ability to see the big picture in our curriculum, that our ability to read and write is forever evolving, and instead it became a list of tasks to accomplish,” Lindsey said.
A study from the University of Tokyo also demonstrated that students writing on paper accomplished their tasks more quickly, along with showing more brain activity surrounding memorization of their work. Lindsey has seen these positive impacts first hand while using paper assignments.
“I hope that more paper assignments and reading experiences with actual books in their hands will give all students, especially students who were virtual last year, a much needed break from the screen,” Lindsey said.
Do you prefer paper or digital assignments?
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Digitalization of assignments has become a quick process over the past years. Assignments rapidly turned from paper, to computer labs to constantly accessible personal computers.
Technologies such as wide-angle cameras allowed German teacher Christie Staszcuk to see her whole classroom while teaching from another school. Students from the opposing schools see the other class and lessons on their Smart Board.
“Connecting the students in both schools is definitely a goal. The fact that the schools are rivals at times adds an extra layer of challenge,” Staszcuk said. “On the positive side, digital assignments allow students to personalize their work more creatively and efficiently.”
This digitalization became useful last year as the whole school transitioned to remote learning. Staszcuk was forced to adapt to online learning, teaching students at two different schools.
“On the day of the walk out at Central, I had classes with only a handful of Central students, but full classes at West. Both groups needed my attention, but in different ways,” Staszcuk said.
The digital learning structure allowed teachers to tailor lessons for each student’s learning style. Specific lessons got categorized into online folders for convenience, which senior Maura Collins found to be helpful.
“Digital assignments are a little bit easier to keep track of for me because I don’t have to worry about losing the paper. It’s also easier to keep track of my deadlines and make changes to the document,” Collins said.
Collins also found that printing wastes the blank sides of paper. Because of printed prompts, there’s only a set amount of space for the information. Digitally, students can continue to add lines to documents and write as much or as little as needed.
“[Technological waste is recyclable], it just takes a large amount of water to do. For paper you can try to recycle it, but it doesn’t really break down,” Collins said. “In both cases, neither of them really get recycled or reused but with technology there’s a chance to repair it.”
Digital assignments and technologies provided opportunities for students to connect throughout the district. Oftentimes virtual students had online classrooms consisting of students from multiple schools, allowing for ideas to be shared outside of the student’s home school. Digital technologies changed the way students and teachers form connections with one another.
“While all virtual classes work for some people, I think many of us felt disconnected last year. My favorite part of being a teacher is the relationships that I form with my students. I really missed that connection with my virtual students last year. Accepting a new teacher is often hard for German students anyway, so I’m very glad that I have the opportunity to get to know my new students in both schools,” Staszcuk said.