Less Paper, More Power

Reducing paper in the classroom can increase educator efficiency.

GUEST COLUMN | by Laura Thrasher

paperless classroomMany educators find that technology can help them teach in new and effective ways, but some inefficiencies remain. Even if you do your best to shift your work online, you may still be collecting stacks of paperwork each day.

Not only can piles of paper clutter your desk, but they can clutter your workflow as well. Think about it; how long does it normally take you to sort through a stack of assignments to find one student’s homework? Additionally, the repercussions of a paper classroom go beyond sheer inefficiency; the cost savings from going paper-free are especially notable. In September, Tiffani Eychaner and Isabel Gutierrez from Irvine Valley College calculated the amount of paper waste at the university and found that over $53,000 worth of paper was being thrown away.

Some teachers may think that moving some processes to email might solve these issues. However, managing communication with students and parents can be just as much of a challenge as it used to be: emails are as easy to ignore as paper notes. As technological tools for education continue to advance, new methods make it easier to streamline assignments, stay organized, and manage communication.

One such option is using online forms to reduce paperwork. Online forms allow users to enter information and submit it to a centralized database. Educators are beginning to flock to online forms because of how easy they are to use and their ability to simplify work in the classroom.

How Online Forms Streamline Teaching

Form builders allow you to create a customized form that you can distribute to your students, parents, or even fellow teachers. Using an online form builder makes it easy to set up and use forms in the classroom, and there are several choices on the market. A free option is Google Forms, which is a great tool for those teachers who want something simple. Subscription products like Formstack and Wufoo offer more bells and whistles, including cloud storage, the ability to create charts and graphs, and mobile device accessibility.

The trend of storing everything in the cloud is increasingly beneficial to teachers. With online form builders, you can access students’ submissions from any location.  Additionally, you can create charts and graphs to use as teaching tools. Cloud storage also helps to ease email overload. If you send out a survey to parents, for example, all of the results will be held in one place until you are ready to review them. Each form and its submissions are organized and stored in the cloud instead of cluttering up your inbox.

Online forms are not just convenient for teachers; they can also help to reduce barriers for students with disabilities. Formstack is one of the only online form builders that is 508 compliant, which means that teachers can use it to create forms that are accessible to people with disabilities. Because assistive technologies like screen readers have specific requirements, creating 508 compliant forms means that students or parents with visual or hearing impairments can access your course materials.

Another benefit to using online forms is their reproducibility. Efficient teachers create resources that can be saved and improved upon from year to year. Some form builders even offer the ability to save frequently-used sections to make form-building even faster. As a result, you can build a library of relevant, effective forms for your classroom.

Uses for Online Forms in the Classroom

Online forms in the classroom are not just efficient; they can be lots of fun for students. Changing the pace of your classroom keeps things interesting and helps to increase student engagement. For example, in a classroom where students have computers or tablets, you can create forms that act as clickers, allowing students to vote on correct answers. Then, your class can instantly review a chart or graph of how the class responded to questions.

Get creative with encouraging participation. Surveys are a fun way to for students to submit ideas for a discussion topic, reflections on a project, or anything else you would like to know.

Using a grading form is an efficient method for evaluating student presentations while a student is presenting to the class. You can also create a form for student self-evaluations or to have students review their partners’ work on a group project. Since forms can be self-calculating, they automatically total your students’ grades.

Streamline communication with parents by using an online form as an electronic permission slip; you can even include a signature field. This is especially effective for field trip or other parent consent forms. Allow parents or students to sign up for conference times, or offer a mid-semester survey to encourage feedback.

For easy assignment submissions, you can include a file upload option. Students’ submissions will be automatically organized in one place. Online forms are a simple way to collect assignments in a centralized location and reduce the amount of paper coming across your desk.

The Efficient Teacher

Experienced teachers do not adopt technology simply for technology’s sake, but do so to achieve a clear goal. Online forms can increase your efficiency and organization by centralizing data collection and simplifying communication. Overall, online forms offer a unique service to teachers and students, and they can even add some fun to the process.

Laura Thrasher is a freelance writer based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Formerly, Laura taught English at the University of Alabama and enjoys sharing her experiences through speaking and writing. She is originally from the Midwest and enjoys good restaurants, cheesy jokes, and running the occasional half marathon. Follow her on Twitter (@lauranav) or Google+.

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