The Paper Predicament: Standard 12 – Teachers evaluate and use technology for teaching and learning.

Original Post: December 13, 2013; Updated May 25, 2019

In the past, our school conducted annual paperless weeks.  During these weeks each department is asked to think “outside the paper box” and integrate technology into our teaching practices.  During one such week, I was almost 100% successful – I had to print one page; missed it by that much! Even though we do not do this formally, I am conscious of how much paper I use and try to be thoughtful about why something needs to be hard copy rather than electronic.  It has been interesting to hear, read, and experience a technology-based classroom; yet, because of the subject I teach, I am reminded daily how dependent I am on paper.  Students journal on a regular basis, we annotate poetry, read novels, and create exit slips all using paper of some type.  My enrollment in Teaching with Technology was very beneficial and I appreciate all the insight into what is available for teachers and students regarding technology in education; however, I still have questions about how successful it will be to go totally technology-based in my class.

Regarding the article “Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs,” the ideas explored really rang true for me.  Peggy A. Ertmer (2005) begins with, “although the conditions for successful technology integration finally appear to be in place…high-level technology use is still surprisingly low (p. 25).  I can see why this is when I look at my school.  We have approximately fifteen laptop carts, iPad carts, three computer labs (plus our library which has a class set of computers), projectors, touch screen monitors at our classroom teacher stations, and so much more; yet, our copiers continue to break down from overuse and textbook adoptions are ongoing.  How do we move from thinking within the borders of paper and reach for what technology has to offer?

One area still causes me to question total integration of technology: reading.  In Scientific American magazine, Ferris Jabr (2013) explores the idea of “Why the Brain Prefers Paper”.  In his study he states “the human brain may perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape.  When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text that is likely similar to the mental maps we create of terrain and indoor spaces” (p. 51). Because my curriculum is ultimately focused on retaining, reviewing, and reflecting on text, I concur with Jabr because students do need the tactile representation of the author’s words to understand and analyze the meaning.  Students often use e-readers and find that it is difficult in small group discussions because they do not know where in the e-reader’s format of the text the information is as it shifts and does not stay fixed.  Our brain is biologically made up to create these virtual maps of information that is found only on an immovable text-based page.  In reading Dundar and Ackayir’s 2011 study, “Tablet vs. Paper: The Effect on Learners’ Reading Performance”, they found that “A study conducted by Wagner and Sternberg (1987) determined that students reading electronic texts were capable of understanding the main theme of the text, but they were not capable of remembering the details of the text. Computer use is tiresome compared to reading a book, and computer displays cause eye fatigue” (p. 442).  I found this to be true in my own informal poll given to my seniors and juniors regarding their preference between online access to texts versus paper copies.  Below is the results of approximately 60 students’ responses to their preferences in interacting with texts in the classroom.

Online v Hardcopy Graph

And when it came to what they prefer to reading a novel (or longer literature) their preferences is extremely clear.

Novel v e-reader

I asked the students to provide an explanation for their preference, these are the type of responses I received: “I would rather have a physical copy because I find it easier to annotate. I prefer to hold a novel. It’s easier for me and better for my eyes. It is also easier to annotate/Physical novels help me to concentrate/Less harsh on eyes, evasive to fall asleep after reading/Using a physical copy allows me to connect more with the text and experience the feeling of seeing how far you’ve progressed while reading a book/Easier to annotate and it’s a habit of mine. I don’t particularly line online books. Also, for assignments it helps me remember if I’m flipping through the actual book/It’s easier to look back at and it hurts my eyes less/I think that reading an e reader hurts my eyes if I read it for too long” (Boas 2019).  These are a sample of the responses collected where the majority of responders commented on the ease of use with a physical novel and how an e-reader put strain on their eyes when exposed for expanded periods of time.

Although I know that e-readers are just a small fraction of technology that is available, you can see that my beliefs vary when it comes to using technology in the classroom.  I’m a bit bi-polar.  I want “old school” when it comes to dealing with the text; however, I am open to broadening the venues in which my students interact with the text.  Ertmer also reports that “some researchers have described inconsistencies between teachers’ beliefs and their classroom practices” (p. 29).  They probably had a hidden camera in my classroom to find this out.  I have enjoyed employing blogging as a tool for literary analysis and the students have responded well which is great!  Then again, I’m thinking about the next unit and I’m already struggling with how I allow the students to continue this “live” interaction, but in the classroom – not in their homes at the end of the day.

This continual balancing act between wanting to increase my practice of useful technology and staying true to what is proven effective (paper) has its advantages because I am stretching my beliefs and teaching practices almost daily.  Staying up to date on pertinent technology trends (through tools such as online journals as I shared on Google+) will hopefully help me to continue to weed out the fear of change.

Reference List:

Boas, C. (2019, May 24). The Paper Debate. Retrieved May 25, 2019, from

Dundar, H., & Akcayir, M. (2012). Tablet vs. Paper: The Effect on Learners’ Reading Performance. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education,4(3), 441-450.

Ertmer, P. A. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for technology integration?. ETR&D, 53(4), 25-39. doi: ISSN 1042-1629

Jabr, F. (2013, November). Why the brain perfers paper. Scientific American, 309(5), 48-53.


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