In Business at the Speed of Thought, Bill Gates remarks about how he was aghast at the amount of paper that was being used at Microsoft because they were supposed to be a computer company. He set out to eliminate as many paper forms as he could at the computer giant. Reading this inspired me to walk into a class that I was teaching at the time and outlawing paper as a homework conveyance. Anything that was handed into me had to be sent to me via email. It made for a very exciting semester. I learned a lot of things about email homework and the power of that application in education.
There is a wonderful experiment going on at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis, Md right along this line. A teacher and I got together and designed an experiment where he assigned an English class a significant writing assignment (5-7 page paper) and REQUIRED that the paper be submitted to him via email. The English teacher then used his tablet computer to HAND grade (hand written annotations) the papers right on his notebook computer using the powerful tablet features of Windows XP tablet addition and Microsoft Office 2003 to efficiently accomplish the task. The grades were then recorded directly into Grade Quick on the computer, the papers were then emailed directly back to the students who wrote them. The teacher did not have to keep track of and carry around the huge stack of papers, nor were there any arguments about when they were handed in. Now both teacher and student have a graded copy of the paper which they can both refer to. The teacher and student now have the beginnings of a student portfolio from which they can both reference evidence of a student’s work or progress. The teacher also has a searchable file of past papers for honor and demonstration issues.
The teacher then showed a colleague what he had done and now it is spreading to her classes. Her tenth grade English classes sent their Great Gatsby papers to her in the same manner. Most homework will still be handed in with paper and pencil in the near term but the flow has started. There is another brick in the road to 1-1 computing.