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Keith Haas

To Print or Not to Print in School?

What teachers think about digitalization in education

Aug 28, 2023 7:22:21 AM


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When I was a kid still in school, I remember it being such a treat when my class was heading to the computer lab and I got to play around with tools that I didn’t have access to in my regular classroom. By the time I was 10, the computer lab experience switched over to being excited when my teachers would rent out a laptop cart so we can work on classroom activities on personal devices anywhere in the classroom, or play the occasional computer game when we had free time! Fast forward to now and what was once a special experience to many other former students is now the standard as school districts are providing their students with their own personal Chromebooks to carry around with them all day long to perform their everyday classroom tasks.


Jealously aside, we’re lucky to have a treasure trove of tools available to help our youth learn in today’s fast-paced world of education. This isn’t the first time print and digital resources in education have been discussed in The Key Point blog, but this time I really want to home in on what print’s role looks like in the classroom in an increasingly digital world. To get these insights, I had the chance to talk to some middle school and high school teachers to really look at the digitalization of their classrooms to get their firsthand views on their experience moving away from print, as well as the pros and cons of going digital. (Spoiler alert: We still think there is room for print and digital resources.)


Educators Going Digital

Of the educators I had the chance to talk to, it goes without saying that most of them credit the COVID-19 pandemic with the decreased turn to printed documents since everyone had to get used to online learning. Upon coming back in physical classrooms, teachers kept with many of the digital tools they had at their disposal since they have already mastered working digitally. This makes sense, as many teachers were forced to adjust their teaching styles and methodologies when everything was stuck at home. Along with those general insights, it isn’t much of a surprise that a good number of teachers have cut down on print activity in recent years. Though the number of documents they actually print varies from the tens into the hundreds, the teachers I spoke to print documents roughly four-times over the course of the week on average.



“We have definitely moved into a more internet-based working situation with Google Classroom,” said Elizabeth, who teaches AP English classes, putting into perspective how digital resources have shifted teachers’ needs regarding how often they print. “I used to spend many hours making copies and no longer do so.


While many teachers had to scramble back in March 2020 to set up fully digital classrooms, one teacher I spoke with, a middle school history teacher named Sean, was already well ahead of the digital curve once his school district went remote. “I first went completely paperless in 2013 and have not looked back since,” he said. “Developing the curricular resources and scanning documents into digital form allowed for quick accessibility and ease of use during coursework.”


Paper vs. Screens in Classrooms

While many classrooms are going digital, teachers still find value in using paper documents. When gauging teachers’ first-hand views of the impact digital learning has compared to traditional learning methods, I knew it was inevitable that there would be varying takes on the strengths and weaknesses of both. One of the weaknesses teachers point out (that shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone) is how digital resources can be distracting and can make it easier for students to get away with cheating. A good number of the teachers I spoke with still use paper for formal assignments and exams to limit and prevent cheating on heavily graded tasks, preserving some level of control they have over student activity.


“Students can be easily distracted when constantly being in front of a screen,” said Nicole, a high school Spanish teacher. “Some students will play videogames or hide their personal cell phones behind their Chromebook screens, so they are not actually paying attention to a lesson or doing the work that they were supposed to. Doing work on paper forces them to pay attention and keep up with what they have to do.”


Nicole wasn’t the only teacher who felt strongly about paper’s positive impact for this reason. Who can blame them for this stance? Studies have shown that students retain and learn more information from printed text than they do digital documents, with students themselves admitting that they are more easily distracted when reading from screens. Teachers I spoke to also said that handing students physical documents to learn from served as a transfer of responsibility, holding students more accountable for their work than they might treat digital documents. Overall, educators found that their students are more engaged when they use paper documents.


If educators are still using digital resources to educate students post-pandemic, there has to be something positive to this way of teaching, right? One major positive regarding digital resources was how interactive students are with them. From students working by themselves on an essay or collaborating with classmates on a PowerPoint presentation, students can actively edit and store documents on the cloud for easy access and retrieval. On top of this, while digital resources can be distracting in many cases, the teachers I spoke with acknowledge that there is such a wealth of online resources available to aid students in their learning.


“Although paper is tangible and helps many students learn better, it’s becoming more of an accommodation as opposed to a standard,” said Jody, who teaches video production to high school students. “With my Master’s in Instructional Technology, I have mastered becoming paperless. My entire Master’s was done online, so I believe goals can be accomplished digitally in all aspects of learning.”


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

Learning how technology can be used like Jody did in their studies or a decade ahead of time like Sean did is valuable to classroom experiences. Considering whether learning from printed or digital documents is more beneficial, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For example, some classes might benefit more from using printed documents, such as a math class where students are still using step by step formulas to solve problems by hand.


More important than the class, though, is the student. Every student is different and has different needs, so the choice between using printed documents or digital resources for learning depends on individual preferences, learning styles, and the specific content being taught. It is the responsibility of the educators and their school districts to sit down and really understand what their students need to thrive and grow in their educations. With printed and digital resources as trusted allies in the classroom, educators and students are equipped to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of education—armed with the tools to excel and the wisdom to adapt.


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