The Paperless Classroom

Table of Contents


Information and Instructional Technologies is always looking for ways to reduce waste. A great deal of college resources are spent each year on paper and toner. IT's budget is hit particularly hard because it provides paper and toner to all of the public computing labs. Many in the St. Olaf community are also concerned about the environmental impact of our printing. In an effort to promote good stewardship of environmental and college resources, IT is encouraging faculty to try the "paperless classroom."

Paper Collection and Distribution

The most obvious source of paper consumption on a college campus is the "paper" assigned to students. It is no longer necessary to collect and return a physical paper. Professors can collect, edit, and return papers without ever actually using paper.

Professors can request a folder for their class on the Classes directory on Sven (the "L: Drive"). The students in the class are then given permission to place their papers in this folder. Once a student puts a paper in the folder, he or she cannot retrieve or edit the submitted paper or open other students' papers already in the folder. The professor can go into the folder and retrieve the papers for editing and grading.

To request a class folder on the L: Drive, e-mail "" with the department, course number, and section. After the folder has been created, then the Professor or students in the class can access it by logging into a computer on campus and opening the "Classes on 'Sven\Main' (L:)" network drive and browsing to the folder with the name of the class.

Because students cannot retrieve files from the classes folders, professors need to return papers by e-mail attachment. You don't even need to know the students' e-mail addresses if you use Netscape Messenger. Simply type in the student's name in the To: field, attach his or her paper using the "paperclip" button, and send the message.

Opening Student Papers

Almost all Professors on campus use Microsoft Word as their word processor. As long as the professor is using Word versions 97, 98, 2000, 2001, or XP, he or she should not have any trouble opening Word documents, regardless of the version, submitted by students. Unfortunately, some students do not use Microsoft Word. Inform your students that they must submit their papers in one of three versions:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Rich Text Format (RTF)
  • Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)

If a student uses Word (available on all public computers), he or she can simply save the document and put the file in the classes folder on the L: drive. If a student uses some other word processor, he or she should select "Save As" under File menu and then select RTF or HTML as the file type. The file then can be placed in the classes directory and the professor will be able to open the document with Microsoft Word.

Professors may want to require that students submit papers in HTML, if the papers will be published on the web for others in the class to read. However, HTML and RTF do not have as sophisticated formatting options as the Word format type. Allowances may need to be made for things like endnotes.

Electronic Editing

Microsoft Word has excellent tools for marking comments on papers. The formatting toolbar allows one to highlight text, change the color of text, and draw boxes around text.

Formatting Toolbar

If this toolbar in not visible, reveal it under the View menu, Toolbars, Formatting. The Outside Border tool (third tool from the left) allows you to put a box around or underline text. Use the middle tool, Highlight, to highlight text with your mouse. The right-most tool, Font Color, can be used to change the color of selected text.

The Drawing Toolbar can be helpful for editing as well. To display this toolbar, select Drawing under View, Toolbars.

Drawing Toolbar

This toolbar can be used to create arrows, boxes, circles, and floating textboxes. Textboxes are great for writing comments. This toolbar button looks like a sheet of white paper with a big "A" in the upper left corner. You can change the inside color of a drawn object by click on the object and then selecting a color with the Fill Color button (paint bucket). The Line Color button (paint brush) changes the outline color of a selected object. Line Style changes the outline width.

Word even contains special features for document editing. Under the View menu, select Toolbars and then Reviewing.

Reviewing Toolbar

The Reviewing Toolbar allows a reviewer to open a document and make additions and deletions which the author can then either accept or reject. The reviewer also can make comments. To use this feature, a professor would open a student's paper, reveal the Reviewing Toolbar, and click the Track Changes button. The review's additions to the text will appear in underlined red font. The reviewer's deletions will not actually remove the text, but rather mark the text red with a line through it. If the reviewer wants to make a simple correction, he or she can turn off the track changes feature by clicking the Track Changes button again and then revise the text itself. The reviewer can also select text with the mouse and then click the Add Comment button to make a comment on the highlighted text.

A student can then open the document and use the Next and Previous comment and Next and Previous change buttons to review the professor's feedback. The author has the ability to accept or reject individual changes or accept or reject all changes. Track Changes even notes which reviewer made each revision. If the author hovers the mouse over the revision, a box will appear with the name of the reviewer, the time of the revision, and the nature of the revision. These features may have particularly useful application in writing and language course where multiple people may want to comment on a single draft.

Paperless Reading Assignments

Although requiring students to purchase textbooks does not affect the budgets or resources of IT, it can be quite an expense for students and a waste of paper, especially when alternatives exist. Some professors have found that many of their reading assignments (or acceptable alternatives) are available in electronic form.

For example, "JSTOR" has hundreds of journals on-line at or through the library's web site. St. Olaf has a license for this service, so there is no charge to students. Other historical documents or out-of-print books may be posted on individuals' or institutions' sites. Type in the title at the search site and see if your desired reading is available. The Perseus Digital Library ( has ancient texts (original language and translated) and Renaissance English works. NetLibrary ( has entire electronic books. With a little bit of web research, you may find what you need.

Electronic readings can have benefits beyond waste reduction and cost-savings for students. Using on-line readings also has the advantage of increasing faculty control over their courses. Professors are freed from the constraints of textbooks, anthologies, and cost considerations to develop the syllabus that best meets the goals of the course. However, to stay consistent with the goals of this document, professors who use these resources should encourage students not to print these documents. Instead, for those students who prefer reading off paper, copies of reading assignments can be kept on reserve at the library.

Professors who have an on-line syllabus can easily supplement electronic readings with their own material. A web-based syllabus can contain links to study guides, lecture notes, practice tests, etc. as downloadable Word or PowerPoint documents or as web pages or PDF documents. As the semester progresses, the on-line syllabus can evolve according to the interests and needs of the particular class.

Other Ways to Reduce Paper Use

Ironically, often it is the classes with significant web-based components that have the highest printing. Students often print out web-based research or on-line materials contained in a course web site. Professors can design courses to discourage this kind of wasteful printing.

  • If a web-based article will be discussed in class, provide the text in class by projecting the web site or making a standard transparency. Discourage students from printing out the article and bringing it into class.
  • Have electronic readings availabe in paper form on reserve at the library
  • Encourage students to use EndNote to manage their research resources instead of printing out web-based research. EndNote manages research resources and allows for easy insertion of references into Word.
  • Have students create PowerPoint presentations or web sites instead of paper-based assignments
  • Use discussion boards or e-mail to allow students to discuss topics, develop ideas, or even share rough drafts of compositions for others to review
  • Post information on a class web site AND encourage students not to print out that information
  • Talk with your students about the importance of conserving college and environmental resources and explain what they can do to help


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