From the Writing Program’s Spring Symposium — “Who Gets Left Out of the ‘Paperless’ Classroom?”

In January of this year, the Writing Program held a symposium that explored how issues of diversity intersect with the first-year writing classroom. The symposium began with a talk from Professor Haivan Hoang entitled “Why Diversity Matters in FWY?” Our instructors then participated in a series of roundtables that focused on language, teacher identity, access/technology, discussion strategies, and issues of disabilities.  As a way to continue the discussions that we started at the symposium, we will bring to you an overview of each roundtable’s discussion.  This week we are featuring the discussion led by Shastri Akella and Rebecca Petitti for the roundtable “Who Gets Left Out of the ‘Paperless’ Classroom.” Please add your own thoughts and questions.

Roundtable: Who Gets Left Out of the “Paperless” Classroom

Leaders: Shastri Akella and Rebecca Petitti

Paperless classrooms can have their benefits. They can entail the sharing of assignments/lectures; collecting assignments; sharing feedback. However for a paperless classroom to work we, as teachers, need to have a shared understanding of the technology we are using with our students – in a sense we all need to be on the same page. It is important to keep in mind that this does not need to be an either/or situation – meaning as teachers we do not  have to have either a paperless or paper classroom. It is possible to explore having a hybrid classroom.

In order to explore the paperless and hybrid classroom, Shastri and Rebecca posed the following questions to the participants of this roundtable:

  • What is a paperless classroom to you—what are some ways in which you use technology?
  • What are some concerns you have about using technology in the classroom, particularly in terms of limitations for both students and teachers? What are some challenges?

Here are their responses or, in some cases, even more questions that were raised:

Challenges & Possible Strategies

Availability of technology on campus: lack of access; limited technology in classrooms; UMass does not have a laptop requirement for students

  •  Survey students at the beginning of class: natures of learning (digital vs. tactile)
  • Survey students at the beginning of class: can you bring in laptops?
  • Survey students about their technology usage

Distraction from laptops: students not paying attention; interacting with each other

  • Ask students to have all their technology/notifications on to see how they use that within a classroom space
  • Ask students to close laptops when you’re done writing
  • Have clear goals for writing; have students summarize the class; clarifying community membership—provide outline. Discussion might go well.
  • More and more students are learning (being forced to learn!) through technology

Classroom spaces: classrooms across campus are uneven in their technological capabilities; not  every classroom  has a projector

  • Possible to get a projector from AIMS

Reasons for not using technology

  • Preparation is harder?
  • Technology investment for teachers (dongles etc.)
  • Students might disengage with speaker (instructor/classmates) and look instead at the screen
  • Why do I need multimedia when I all want to teach is a sentence?
  • Different kinds of technology?
  • Different kinds of media?


  • Using a grammar blog to integrate student writing with technology
  • Converting “Adding to the Conversation” unit into new form (how form/content influences content)
  • Using new media but making sure all students are on the same page (ex: Vine video)
  • What form/media do students reach out for? Physical/digital media
  • Playing music as students write
  • Using music with speakers. TBA Unit: Bring in a musician into class. Creative process across disciplines. Q&A, writing exercises. Artists also talk about their revision process.
  • Usage of Power Points. Posting online might remove the incentive to come into class
  • Provide only outlines, helps with attention issues and multilingual writers
  • Focus and helping with goals vs. making sure students are respectful in class
  • Everything except final draft on Google Doc
  • Stop editing their papers if it’s online. Give targeted feedback
  • Students can interact with comments on Google Docs
  • Google Docs for peer reviews; students work at different pace. If students are done, they read another one—teacher can see comments and encourage then to write more if they are not detailed. Allow only comments, not in-line edits
  • In-class debate, students started doing research proactively
  • Peer-editing in Google Docs
  • Student can collaborate

Takeaways/Best Practices/Classroom Activities

  • Have conversations on how students use technology
  • Might be hard to incorporate technology in your first semester (when you might want to focus on content and not medium)
  • Having varied platforms for different writing styles: be adaptable
  • How do we have teachers step out of their comfort zone in terms of using technology?
  • Have workshops for teachers on different technology platforms
  • Continue to have books
  • Working on a common computer in peer groups—access ease
  • Focus issues—perhaps not use laptops?
  • Writing on paper and then putting up on Google Docs might give students the opportunity to sit longer with ideas
  • Writing Program Tech Coordinator can come to your classrooms for help with technology!




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