Paperless Classroom Laurence Craven Timothy Muza

August 7, 2017

In an article based on research first presented at The Asian Conference on Language Teaching and Technology in the Classroom 2015, Laurence Craven of the American University of Sharjah, UAE, discusses the advantages and the potential issues of substituting technology for paper in the classroom.

New technology is constantly making its way into the classroom in an attempt to improve the learning experience (Melhuish & Falloon, 2010) and many universities and schools are using computers and mobile devices in the classroom to enhance students’ academic performance. This use of technology can create a paperless classroom. Colleges, universities and schools have different approaches when putting in place the paperless classroom. One way is by using iPads instead of books, paper and pens, and supplementing the iPads with Blackboard software as well as using an overhead projector.

The Benefits

The benefits of the paperless classroom are varied and apply to both teachers and students. The first advantage is simply not having any physical paper that can be lost or forgotten and that may perish over time. Another benefit for the teacher is not having to make photocopies of each handout – a tedious task, especially when the copier breaks down. Rather than photocopying, a document can be uploaded to Blackboard and the students can access the document using their iPads. Students do not need to develop a filing system, and even disorganized students can find their lecture notes organized for them on Blackboard by the teacher, week by week. The use of a scanned textbook eliminates the problem of students forgetting their work, and there is no longer any need for them to carry heavy textbooks to class – so no excuses!

All textbooks, lecture notes and students’ work can be stored on the iPad. Teachers can upload the course content to Blackboard, and students can access and work on course content wherever and whenever they wish, and interact with their teacher by email. Students have different amounts of study time depending on their family situation, commute, learning style and efficiency. Furthermore, if a teacher forgets to assign homework, it can be assigned after the class, allowing the teacher more time to reflect on the class and decide what homework would be most appropriate. In addition, students can be reminded of their homework multiple times using the announcement function in Blackboard, which is less liable to be seen as nagging.

When presenting in a traditional classroom, the teacher tends to be at the front of the class, so they can write on the board or scroll through Powerpoint slides. By using the iPad’s mirroring function, the iPad’s screen is projected on the projection screen, so the teacher is no longer tied to the desk and can walk around freely while presenting information on the whiteboard. This greater freedom of movement is useful as the teacher can circulate and ascertain that the students are following and not encountering difficulties. In addition, the teacher will be able to check what the students are doing and whether they are on task, or double check they are not accessing social media or inappropriate websites.

“Students complaining about their grades is common, so having a running average throughout the course means that students receive ongoing assessments of their work…”

The online aspect of the class – using Blackboard and iPad access – makes grading work easier, and who would complain about that? Grades are posted in Blackboard using a function called My Grades. The teacher and students can view a running average of the grades throughout the course and therefore anticipate their final grade before receiving it. Students complaining about their grades is common, so having a running average throughout the course means that students receive ongoing assessments of their work, and can see how they are progressing towards the aims and objectives. So, no nasty surprises and fewer excuses when they receive their final grade.

“When students are absent from class, they can view the lecture notes in Blackboard and read the notes and assignments they have missed.”

A very useful function of Blackboard is the discussion board, where the teacher can post a discussion question to which students are required to respond. This feature helps to ensure that students read assigned readings and practice their response to in-class or at-home readings, and is a viable alternative to checking homework in class. When students are absent from class, they can view the lecture notes in Blackboard and read the notes and assignments they have missed. There is no need to make an appointment during the teacher’s office hour and/or ask their friends for missed lecture notes. Any lack of concrete answers or misguided information from other students is also prevented.

Another handy feature of iPads is that the Blackboard application can be used during test time to make use of the guided access feature. This blocks most other functions to prevent students exiting the test and cheating. The tests that run through the Blackboard environment can be automatically graded by Blackboard. The results are sent to the teacher and students as soon as the test is completed. Students appreciate the immediate feedback and teachers are grateful for the extra time.

Students may enjoy working with educational apps on the iPads when the course schedule allows, and can use the apps to practice spelling and vocabulary-building exercises. Making lessons more fun is one way to lower learners’ affective filters and create incentives to learning (Rossiter, 2003) and the games provided an incentive. The game element makes the learning of vocabulary enjoyable. Mayo (2009) also found games to be of benefit to learners; results show the learning gap between various learners was diminished by creating gaming systems that can adapt to the pace of the specific user and capitalize on the variation in learning styles (Mayo, 2009).

Another benefit of using the iPads is the internet browsing capability. Being able to browse the internet in class can be very useful when students need to do some research for a class project or presentation. There is no need to send them to the library, where it can be difficult to monitor their activity and which may need to be organized with the librarian.

The Challenges

Although there are many benefits encountered with a paperless classroom, there are also drawbacks, some of which can surface unexpectedly, and resolving them is not always possible during class. The first issue encountered by teachers will be the setting up of student iPads, which can take a few hours of class time. Students are often given iPads but need help from the teacher in setting them up. Furthermore, students have to register for the Apple iTunes store to be able to download educational apps. Since students are unlikely to be able to set up their own iPads, the set-up process may need to be completed in class. When an educational app needs to be downloaded, explaining the process and the download can take around fifteen minutes, due to students forgetting passwords or being unable to find the app in question. The situation can be similar when setting up guided access for tests – a difficult and time-consuming process because the teacher must cycle through several menus and input a password twice without the students seeing the password. Setting up guided access for twenty students can sometimes take up to fifteen minutes, due to students at times being uncooperative. After the test, the teacher also has to remove guided access on each iPad, which takes up yet more time. Tedious, but some of these problems can be overcome if the teacher has a technical assistant in the class.

Answering questions or gap-fills in online textbooks sometimes takes students much longer than using a pen and a hard-copy book. On some e-books, students need to fill in their answers with the iPad keyboard and then try to position the writing in the correct place by moving it with the touchscreen. The teacher can also answer on their iPad screen and mirror the answers on the overhead projector; however, like students, teachers may find this process time-consuming and may instead end up writing the answers on the whiteboard, thus negating the apparent benefits of the iPad.

“Not all students have easy access to internet at home and this needs to be taken into account by teachers and administrators.”

Other problems relating to the technology itself are the fact that students sometimes forget to charge their iPads and may come to class with a low battery, which can sometimes run flat in class. If this is the case, the student may not be able to share an iPad easily with another student due to the difficulty of seeing the screen from an angle. Although providing chargers in the classroom could assist in solving this problem, available plug sockets may be limited. Not all students have easy access to internet at home and this also needs to be taken into account by teachers and administrators.

Although students may at first be excited about studying with an iPad, the initial novelty and student engagement with the device can be temporary and may wane after the first few weeks of the term. Students can also often be tempted to use social media and play games, which makes keeping them on-task a challenge due to the distractions the iPads present. A further issue related to not being able to easily view an iPad’s screen from an angle means that it can be difficult for teachers to monitor student activity and check if they are staying on-task.

Students and teachers may also need to get used to the technology used in paperless classrooms. Teacher attitudes towards technology can be explained as in the technology acceptance model TAM (Davis, Bagozzi & Warshaw, 1989). Davis et al. note that a number of factors influence student and teacher decisions about how and when they will use technology. Perceived usefulness, or how the technology will enhance the teachers’ job performance, and perceived ease-of-use, or the amount of effort that needs to be put in by the teacher in making the best use of the new technology (1992), need to be taken into consideration as variables when implementing a paperless classroom.

Although the Blackboard online course management system has numerous advantages, the issue of students no longer listening to teacher instruction can present itself. In some cases, if the teacher does not post homework instructions as announcements on Blackboard, but only gives oral instructions, students may not listen or do the homework. They may feel that if it has not been recorded on Blackboard, it is not a genuine request for homework.

“The budget for all the technology used can be very large compared to traditional classrooms and it should, therefore, be adding more value to the classroom.”

Technology may be substituted for paper without adding a large amount in the form of better outcomes due to a lack of teacher training. Most usage of technology is often substitution, as in the SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006). The SAMR model explains that substitution is when technology acts as a substitute with no functional change (Puentedura, 2006). The budget for all the technology used can be very large compared to traditional classrooms and it should, therefore, be adding more value to the classroom, such as redefinition as explained in the SAMR model. Redefinition is when the technology allows for the creation of new tasks, which were previously inconceivable (Puentedura, 2006). The reason for the lack of redefinition in most cases are the teachers’ lack of training and experience with the technology.

The iPad may not be a perfect alternative for paper and pen, and not a viable substitute, although the two could be used in tandem. Blackboard, a tried and tested online course delivery system, proves itself very useful and its advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Furthermore, due to their enhanced functionality, laptops may be more useful in the classroom than iPads and are preferable due to their greater functionality, ease of navigation and practical keyboard. As the differences between laptops and tablets such as the iPad start to diminish and become blurred, the choice of which to use will become less of an issue. Further research and training needs to be carried out to allow faculty to maximize the benefits of technology and to not merely use technology as a substitute, but for more beneficial outcomes. So don’t be tempted to bin those pens and paper just yet.

Image | Timothy Muza, Unsplash

Laurence Craven first presented this research at The Asian Conference on Language Teaching and Technology in the Classroom 2015.


Davis, F. D., Bagozzi, R. P., & Warshaw, P. R. (1989). User acceptance of computer technology: A comparison of two theoretical models. Management Science, 35(8), 982–1003.

Mayo, M. (2009). Video Games: A route to large-scale STEM education? Science, 323(5910), 79–82.

Melhuish, K., & Falloon, G. (2010). Looking to the future: M-Learning with iPads. Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, Leading, Technology, 22(3).

Puentedura, R. (2006). Transformatiom, Technology, and Education. Presentation given August 18, 2006 as part of the Strengthening Your District Through Technology workshops, Maine, US. Retrieved from

Rossiter, M. (2003). The effects of affective strategy training in the ESL classroom. TESL e-journal, 7 (2). Retrieved from:

Laurence Craven

About Laurence Craven

Laurence Craven lives in the United Arab Emirates and teaches Rhetoric and Composition at the American University of Sharjah. Prior to this he spent ten years teaching writing and English at universities in Japan. His research interests are written corrective feedback and second language acquisition and the use of technology in the classroom.

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