Going paperless as a teacher – Part 1

Last month, Bill Ferriter hit the digital nail on the digital head when he explained why he hates paper.  And he does a great job of explaining why a classroom focus on paper is a disservice to our digital learners. But going paperless as teachers also is important. Not only does it allow us to do some good modeling for our students, but when done well it turns us into better collaborators and teacher leaders.

Do you want to go more paperless but, at the same time, you can’t part with the shelves, boxes and drawers full of paper? There are a few (mostly simple) steps you can take overcome your paper dependence. Today we’ll look at the first step.

Step 1: Buy a couple of hard drives. This is the obligatory ‘back up your data or you’ll be sorry’ notice. But it is also practical. I’ve heard people say they’re holding on to their paper copies of things as a backup in case they lose it on their computer. Don’t do that. Hard drives are cheap and they’re small. You could scan a couple binders of materials and have enough room to store 10 hard drives – each containing every document you’ve ever created or scanned, your entire music collection, and all those hundreds of photos of your cat.

But what you really need to do is spread out your backups. I have an external hard drive at home that my laptop backs up to every evening. That way, if my laptop goes missing or crashes I always have a backup close at hand. I have an identical drive that I hide in my desk at work. That should keep my data safe if my house were to burn down or disappear in a giant sinkhole. I swap the drives every couple of weeks. Anything important between hard drive swaps is kept safe in Dropbox, a service that allows you to access your documents from multiple computers.

There are tons of ways to back up. There are other online tools such as Mozy, Carbonite, or Backblaze you can use to back up your data. Or if you’re a Mac user you can invest in a Time Capsule. Figure out what works for you. But figure it out now.

Backing up isn’t just smart, it also makes you a better collaborator:

  1. If you have an extra hard drive you keep at work or carry around, it is easy to hand it to another teacher when they ask a question, such as ‘Hey, you’ve taught Biology before. What resources do you have?’
  2. For ongoing collaboration with other teachers you can share a folder on Dropbox. This is a wonderful tool. I work with a fellow Social Studies 12 teacher to plan our courses. We work at opposite ends of the building, but we are able to share resources simply by saving to the same folder. It magically syncs everything to our computers. Going paperless involves storing a lot more “stuff” digitally. You shouldn’t do this until you have this whole backup thing down pat. Ready to move on? Good.

Next time we’ll start to look at the cool tools you can use to actually go paperless.