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Paperless: worth the risk

| Monday, April 7, 2014

Three years ago, my high school began offering incoming students iPads in a push to go paperless. This really upset me, not because of the sustainable initiative, of course, but because I was a freshmen at Notre Dame at the time and was conspicuously iPad-less. The initiative garnered lots of support from the local news media, but after the first year was over it received mixed reviews from the teachers. You see, many of the teachers were hesitant allowing students to have such easy access to technology in the classroom.  They felt that it could be a distraction, and one year later they realized that they were right. The iPads were too much for high school students. It turns out it is difficult to teach 15-year-old boys playing “Angry Birds.” However, my school’s president is sticking with the drive because he sees its potential.

Though my high school suffered some setbacks, I still believe Notre Dame should follow my high school down the road to paperless learning through the use of technology. Just from April 2012 to June 2012, Notre Dame used nine million sheets of paper. If you were to stack it, you could make a 3,000 foot tall tower, that’s 300 feet taller than the Burj Khalifa. Granted, a lot of this paper contains partially-recycled material, but Notre Dame still uses a staggering amount of paper. This is partially because it is almost impossible to go paperless on Notre Dame’s campus. Notre Dame needs to take steps to become a more paper friendly campus.

Tablet computing in the classroom allows students a variety of paper alternatives. Programs like Microsoft Onenote allow students to write on notes in a natural way with their hand resting on the screen. There are also accessories for the iPad that allow students to type using a keyboard. These two methods allow for students to make the switch from taking notes on paper to taking notes electronically, no matter what their note taking style. However, there is one major obstacle that paperless students often face: professors.

Most professors at Notre Dame still ask for a paper copy of student papers. However, this is an outdated concept. Microsoft Word now allows professors to write in-line comments using the review feature. A simple seminar on how to utilize this feature could allow the University to mandate that all professors accept electronic copies of papers. Sure, this may upset some of the less tech-savvy professors, but think of the paper savings and the print quotas of the Program of Liberal Studies students.

Many professors are justified in their hesitation to allow students to use laptops and tablets in their classes. Like my high school teachers, they fear that there is more Facebook-ing being done than learning. However, there are ways around this. Instead of proposing a Big Brother-esque camera in the back of the room as a solution, I propose an honor system. Professors should believe that their students are using their laptops for good not evil, and students should strive to earn their trust by refraining from surfing the web in class (I suppose we could make a small exception for March Madness).

There may be obstacles in going paperless or trying to use paper less, but for all the reasons I’ve just investigated, I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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