Declaring War on Paper

Before democratizing education, using edtech for an even more basic task.

GUEST COLUMN | by Johan Hagglund

CREDIT DigiExamMost people have come to think about edtech as expanding the reach of education— democratizing it. Or using technology to adjust to leaning or teaching styles or making better teaching resources more available through engaging content, personalized leaning and collaboration.

And while edtech is all those things, the edtech revolution has yet to even capture the most basic element of the digital revolution— the banishment of paper. Decades into the technological remake of education, and after billions of dollars of investment, students and schools still run on paper.

Paper is the epitome of inefficiency. It’s been outdated in publishing for more than a decade. The Kindle is in; hardcover books are out. Digital has all but banished things such as writing an actual, physical check, for example. Even if you get a physical check today, you can deposit it on your smartphone – no paper deposit slip.

Before we can fully embrace the value that edtech can bring to the classroom and improve how we inspire, engage and encourage students to learn, we have to banish the anachronism of paper.

Yet, today, teacher Smith will tell student Alice to get out some paper for a quiz and college teaching assistants will pass around those little blue booklets where students write their answers. That’s as outdated as the manual typewriter or having a set of encyclopedias in every classroom. And for those who follow, invest in, design or use edtech, it begs the question—How can edtech revolutionize teaching and learning and democratize education when it can’t even conquer paper?

We can’t. Before we can fully embrace the value that edtech can bring to the classroom and improve how we inspire, engage and encourage students to learn, we have to banish the anachronism of paper.

That means moving to digital testing. If student are, at some point, going to be learning exclusively on digital ‘text’ books, we should be testing exclusively on digital as well. Like nearly everything digital, digital exams are faster, more secure, and more efficient for both students and teachers. The tests are faster to grade, the student work is anonymous – freeing teachers and students from the perceptions or realities of expectation bias and the results are easier to share. It’s better for the environment too.

Yet somehow, in the midst of what we think of as an edtech revolution, we’re content to have students write down their answers by hand and pass them forward and we expect a teacher to lug them around and grade each one, by hand, with a pen. To our collective tech embarrassment, nothing in that process has changed since 1990, or 1970, or 1950.

As edtech goes, digital testing is the easy A. Because of what tech has done to paper in other areas, getting it out of our classrooms should be the easiest hill to climb, so to speak. It will not only accelerate a wider adoption of classroom and teaching technology, it will necessitate it. Once all testing is digital, there will be no reason not to teach that way, too.

Like many edtech innovations, the transition to digital exams has already begun. Because it’s less expensive and more efficient, the growth has been rapid. The question we’re asking now is—How long will a complete move to digital testing take? The question we’ll be asking in ten years is—What took so long? 

Johan Hagglund is CEO and cofounder of award-winning DigiExam, a leader in secure end-to-end digital assessment and grading platform.

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4 Responses to Declaring War on Paper

  1. I would love to eliminate the use of paper in my math class. Since I only teach math, I have 3 classes for 80 minutes each all day, every day. However, our school only has 2 computer labs with 30 computers each so that means I can only use them once a week. Last year I was given 3 Chrome books to keep in my classroom. 3 tablets are not enough for a class of 22. In addition, our district is considered wealthy because we have a few billionaire residing in our district. The reality is that we are a Title One school which means we have a lot of children on free and reduced lunch because of their parents low income. Our district is fighting a losing battle because of this.

  2. Pingback: An #EdTech War on Paper

  3. Pat says:

    Thank Johan, I enjoyed your article and couldn’t agree more. As you noted, moving testing to a digital platform makes a lot of sense but can you expand more on how you see teaching and learning moving away from paper? I am hoping to move my organization in that direction but we also have to reconcile our academic belief that writing things down and working things out on paper has value.

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