After potentially a summer off, if I were the photocopier, I’d dread the day school begins: all those instructors, all those handouts, all that toner. Why do we feel this automatic reaction to photocopy so much material? I think it often boils down to anxiety. A feeling of preparation accompanies walking into a classroom with a large stack of handouts. We’ve done our homework. We’re ready for whatever comes up. We have this automaticity for many reasons, which might be determined better if you find the “underlying cause that needs a solution”, like Gordon Scruton attempts. Though some suggest trying to go completely paperless, that seems unrealistically extreme. Why do that? To save the environment? To eliminate the possibility of misusing handouts? What an overreaction. In fact, read over Adam Simpson’s post which describes “many things that you’ll regret if you make your classroom or your office a totally paperless one“–a good call, I’d say. It’s the opposite extreme of photocopying everything. Like almost every choice we make, there exists a balance to achieve.
Consider whether every student really needs a handout – Students can often share one copy or divide up the information on handouts into groups, like a jigsaw. Give one group half a sheet with information and other groups the other half. Have them work together to interpret and then relay information to each other. This way, each page (cut into halves) is used by at least two students.
Activities or texts used by the whole class can often be projected onto a screen by OHP or laptop projector. If it’s done as a large group, a projection can ensure students are all focusing on the same amount of text, giving teachers control over how much of the text or handout students see at any given time.. And note-taking skills? Check.
You can have students come to the laptop to type in their answers to projected questions. You can have students come to the board to write in their answers. In the end, that document can be saved online for student access or like many students I know, they can take a photo of the board. Especially in the university context, students often rewrite their notes at home after studying anyways. This can also give them the opportunity to do so electronically instead of using up two papers.
Think about the empty space on your handouts– I often see teachers copying pages and
pages and pages out of coursebooks and then stapling them together in lieu of having class sets or individually purchased texts. Let’s face it, each student buying a coursebook just doesn’t happen everywhere. Individualised content with authentic materials is in. It’s much more reasonable to pull various pages from various places together for your class (aside–coming from a publisher or distributor’s p-o-v, an entirely different discussion can take place about this). Just keep in mind that coursebooks usually leave a lot of space empty or with massive photos for its visual appeal–a great waste if copied. Is it really necessary for half a page to be devoted to a photo? Does an activity designed for a column in a text have to take up the whole page on your copy? Do instructions really need to be included on the handouts? With a little effort, I think we can maximise the use of one page.
The more pages, the more you should use it – If a one-page handout can be underutilised by instructors anxious to keep students interested, think about handouts that are several pages long. How much of a waste is it to use only once? There are excellent ideas on how to administer shorter readings without giving physical copies to students, but “for various intensive reading activities the students need to have a physical copy, to underline or highlight and to read at their own pace without the pressure of having the majority of a class dictate when to move onto the next page.” If students are likely to reuse those handouts again on their own time or in class more than once, then maybe they should have their own. I do, however, believe some relief on photocopying for even larger readings like this by can be done by selecting sections that will be read in class and leaving the remainder as an accessible digital copy (I’m thinking of documents that are more than 5 pages long, for example). Though in the end, students will likely print them out at home anyways–and is that a better alternative to photocopying? Depends on the perspective.
So should classes be completely paperless? No, I don’t think that’s reasonable. Should we look for ways to minimise our copying to what’s essential? Yes, it’s doable. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice not to deal with so many jams, paper outages and copier breakdowns? Absolutely.