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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Working with Acrobat Pro to reduce paper use

Mantra reminder: "Paper does not an education make"


"Numbers are numbers no matter how many trees I kill"

I should be keeping some account of how much less paper I am involving myself with this year as compared to past ones. A rough estimate: I'm down at least 25%, maybe more.

The biggest direct benefit for me is that I am no longer hauling lots of paper back and forth between home and school. My students can no longer worry I will lose their papers in the stacks that accumulated.

The biggest direct benefit for my students: well, they may tell you there has been none. They have lost some leverage in the "I lost the paper" or "It is home on my desk" arguments for why they would be handing late work in. Since much of the work they now give me for grading is posted on their blog, I can easily tell when they completed it: sort of like the time stamp that I would otherwise have to use in the classroom if I wanted to be that obsessive about when work is handed in.

Now I read my student's POW essays with ease from my computer, when I darn feel like it, perhaps with a cup of coffee if the am, or (tiny) glass of wine in the evening. I can read a couple at a time or all of them, or I can breeze through them using my NetNewsWire rss feed reader.

I evaluate their essays using the same POW rubric I developed several years ago, only now I don't have to print them up and have them handy when I read my students' work. I simply pull up the form I created us Acrobat Pro last spring and fire away any number of interesting and relevant comments. And guess what? I am far more able to offer positive feedback if I am allowed to keyboard it in rather than handwrite it. Added benefit: spell check and legibility: my students don't have to ask about my chicken scrawl writing anymore.

When I finish a form, I save it with the name of the student and the assignment into the appropriate folder I've made on my computer. Later, with a swift and steady hand, I pass out these rubrics into each student's individual computer drop box that we are fortunate enough to have at our school.

My students later access these drop boxes, read the evals and post them on their blog next to the POW essay it refers to. If they have questions or comments about my evaluation of their work, they simply write a comment alongside the blog post and I will see it on my RSS reader. No more waiting to find me, or me trying to recall just what my comment meant or who asked me what? The record is clear, time stamped and open to me, the student and the student's family to see. And I have what would be the equivalent of the "carbon copy" of the evaluation form and all the comments for easy perusal when needed (like for report card comments).

Yes, there has been some push back, but I have been working with these particular students, finding them resources, like usb flashdrives, or showing them how to take screen shots of their charts to upload with their essays. They are learning how to use the computer to their advantage as an organizational and communication tool. Seems to me that I am leaving them a great skill base to build upon as they continue through schooling.

I am also saving myself hours at a copy machine.

But truth be told, some of the time I've gained from the copy machine I have reinvested into my computer, like it or not. The space/time advantages are obvious, but so are the distraction potential with Twitter, Internet, Facebook ect. There is a new discipline I need to develop to keep me on task.

The other time input that is increasing is my use of Acrobat Pro to create the forms and rubrics I want (need) for my system to work optimally. For example, I just spent 2+ hours created an editable rubric for an upcoming math project my students will be posting, either on a class wiki or on their blogs (or both, what the heck!). I like the form and I can see that over time, the learning curve levels out. Nevertheless, it is a cost in time, albeit one I enjoy at this point.

As a final note, this has been a collaborative project with our technology administrator, who has answered each of my questions I have had about how to push the technology towards our favor and has dedicated time towards helping me make the system as fluid as possible. Without his help I fear much of what I have managed to date would not have blossomed. Thanks!

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