eLearning Technology Blog

The Paperless Classroom

by WSU Online 22. December 2011 11:27

I’ll never forget having coffee with my former boss, Dr. G.  We met at a local coffee shop, and his laptop was already plugged in and whirring away by the time I arrived. He was grading assignments in his course space and sipping his Chai Latte as I tentatively sat down next to him for our bi-semester chat. Dr. G was a thin, calm man with snow white hair and translucent blue eyes.  He had a deep respect for his students, and a relaxed way of mentoring his faculty into this powerful teaching philosophy.

We discussed how my courses were going, my challenging students, my rewarding moments – and how I would provide grade updates to my students come midterm time. It was my first or second semester teaching, and I had planned on providing slips of papers with hand-written grades to each student.  Dr. G scooted forward in his chair slightly, turning his laptop to the side so that the screen faced both of us. “This printing, copying, writing and cutting, takes a lot of time, wouldn’t you say?” He tipped the laptop screen down a touch to reduce the glare. “Rebecca, my classroom is 90% paper-free. You can have a paperless classroom yourself.”

It was like one of those horrible, cliché moments when a little light-bulb goes on inside the brain. Why was I rushing to school before class, staying after, late into the evening to make copies, print off handouts, staple, and hole punch?  Here Dr. G, over thirty years my senior, was persuading me to use our learning management system instead of the old-fashioned paper method. Why hadn’t I been brave enough to try it earlier? Why hadn’t I created a more efficient classroom?  But even more importantly, why hadn’t I been running a more environmentally-friendly classroom?  It was at that precise moment that I realized how many creative tools for teaching existed. All that was required of me was an open mind and adventurous attitude.  I decided I would take Dr. G up on his challenge to run a paperless classroom.

For the rest of our meeting, Dr. G showed me how to import and export the grade book in and out of our college’s learning management system.  It was a little complex, I thought.  However, I wrote down each step and practiced them later that week.  Soon it became a simple little task. But, it empowered me to take more ownership over my classroom and my materials. It also sparked what would be a life-long interest in computers, design, multi-modality, and the pedagogy of online learning.

At that point, our meeting was wrapping up, and Dr. G glanced at his watch, zipped his laptop into a thin satchel, and shook my hand. I said goodbye and watched him walk across the parking lot, expecting him to hop into a sporty, hybrid vehicle.  However, there was no key chirping or doors popping open; instead he trotted straight up the muddy hill and across the street to catch the 6 o’clock bus. Of course… the bus! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Rebecca Stull

 

Staying Ahead of the Curve

by Mike 7. December 2011 10:30

Over Thanksgiving, I had many great conversations with family, during which, my Aunt Jane mentioned something about technology that piqued my interest. Of course, the topic changed before I explore her comment. Now, for the life of me, I can’t remember what she said. So, I thought it would be interesting to interview Jane on the topic of technology to see how her experiences might mirror some of the issues we deal with here at WSU. You may find some of the correlation thought-provoking.

MM: What industry do you work in and what is your position title?

Jane: I work in the Construction Materials and Lumber industry. I have been a Credit Manager in this industry for over thirty years.

MM: What role does technology play, day to day, at work?

Jane: Until the last couple of years, this industry hasn’t changed the way it’s done business very much – invoices were sent out every 30 days; if a customer requested an early invoice or quote, it was sent via fax to a stationary fax machine. Now, with money as tight as it is, our customers want the invoice delivered with the merchandise, allowing them to bill their clients quicker. With this, our customers also need the information sent to their email and smart phones. Currently, our software doesn’t allow for this, so we end up doing a lot of manual work – pulling files, scanning documents, etc.

About three years ago, our company considered upgrading the software we use, allowing most of the time consuming, manual work we do now tobe done electronically.

MM: Why did you decide not to move forward with the software upgrade?

Jane: Cost was a factor, but, our decision was based primarily on industry culture. For years, our business has been done either in person or via phone. This type of personal relationship has been a key part of our success, and must continue to be, even as we move toward electronic communication.

Also, three years ago, very few people, in our industry, were interested in doing business electronically. However, customer needs have changed very quickly, in part due to a new generation entering the industry. In the future, those who are able to adapt quickest to this new mode of business, will be the ones who thrive as we come out of the recession.  

MM: How would you rate your comfort level with basic computing and the Microsoft Office Suite? How about your staff? What do you think their comfort level is?

Jane: I’m pretty comfortable with computers and Microsoft, at least with Word and Excel. With staff it definitely varies by person. In general, though, none are overly interested in technology. In fact, another manager and I are considered the “go to’s” for technical issues and training, and we’re not that technically orientated! The key is make technology relevant to the person – associate the technology with either a task the person does, or, with a hobby of theirs, if it can demonstrate what you are showing them.

Even though Jane works in a different industry, I find it interesting that she’s facing issues similar to those of the WSU community. WSU recently launched the zzusis portal to provide on demand, user specific, and important community information. Additionally, we all manage emails, instant messages, and multiple phone lines to help our faculty and students when they need the help.  WSU also has a social presence, with accounts on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Sometimes we use blogs (like the one you’re reading now) to connect to audiences and stakeholders who lead busy lives and need to connect when it is convenient for them.

Teaching technologies also play an important role in our work. At WSU, the most commonly used are likely Angel, Tegrity, and Elluminate (BB Collaborate); however, many other resources are in use and available free to faculty and staff. These technologies remove barriers of time and place, allowing teaching and learning to occur outside the confines of the traditional classroom. As Jane states, “those who are able to adapt quickest to this new mode of business, will be the ones who thrive.” I believe it is absolutely appropriate that we use the technologies of today to help educate the innovators of tomorrow.

For ideas on incorporating technologies into your teaching see WSU Online’s Showcase and other resources.

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