School Districts are Ditching Paper for Streamlined Data: Here’s How  


Not too long ago, most classrooms were filled with a wide range of administrative tasks—far more than many realized. Huge portions of a teacher’s day were devoted to tracking permission slips, grading tests, processing attendance sheets, and the list goes on and on.

The issue is that not only did these things take up a lot of time, but they were also almost entirely paper-based. What happens if a student has to turn in a paper-based permission slip to attend a field trip, and then that slip is misplaced? Does the student go anyway? Are they unfairly left behind? How do you protect yourself as a teacher – and the school you work for – if something goes wrong?

These paper-based tasks were a burden, plain and simple. But thankfully, they don’t have to be any longer. School districts are increasingly ditching paper for a more efficient (and enjoyable) digital future. Not only does this make the lives of all involved easier, but it also creates a much more effective experience.

The Technology That Brought Us Here

In many ways, the “how” behind this shift towards digitization in an educational setting can be traced back to the rise of the personal computer and the ubiquitous nature of the Internet.

There weren’t necessarily computers in every classroom in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t uncommon to find schools with a “computer lab” that may have had 20 or even 30 workstations. At the same time, the Internet was becoming a more prominent part of our lives. This happened first with dial-up connections, then soon with DSL lines, cable Internet, and more.

As computer technology became cheaper, Internet technology became more powerful. That created a perfect storm in the best possible way. Nobody had managed the sheer volume of data in a school electronically before simply because it wasn’t possible. Suddenly, it was, and districts had to adapt their own way of doing things to rise to the tech’s potential.

Another seismic leap forward occurred when low-priced items like Chromebooks became available. Suddenly, schools weren’t limited to single rooms filled with computers. Now, every classroom could have one, and soon, every student could have one, leveling the playing field and guaranteeing that all learners had equal access to precious digital resources.

The Benefits of a Digital World

Obviously, the number one benefit of the fast-paced digital world we’re living in is efficiency.

Any teacher with a career older than a few years can tell you how long it takes to grade a paper-based test. When you have 25+ students in a classroom, even if they all take the same test, you’re still talking about a major time commitment. Multiply that effort by the total number of classes you’re instructing; you could easily lose days to the grading process alone. It’s hardly the most efficient use of your time and attention – not to mention that it takes away your ability to be proactive and engage with students.

With digital tests (or, at the very least, a resource like a data collection form), grading can happen far faster to the point of being almost instant. Plus, with analytical tools, you can uncover trends and patterns you may have otherwise missed. If there is a common theme throughout the tests you’ve given (like all students are missing the same question) and you’re living in a paper-based world, it’s up to you to recognize that. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t.

With data analysis tools, this insight can automatically rise to the top. That way, you can focus on what it means and what you must do to act on it.

This digital world also brings a far improved level of communication with parents. To return to the example of a data collection form, think about something like a permission slip for an upcoming field trip. In “the old days,” you’d need to send those permission slips home with a student to be signed. It would have to make it there, which is certainly not guaranteed. It would then need to be signed, made back, and kept safe until the big day arrived.

With a data collection form, sending out those permission slips is again instant and effortless. Parents are automatically in the loop, and no important communications need to pass through the “student filter.”

All this leads to a far better approach to organization for teachers and administrators. Paper-based forms, while important, can be lost or stolen. They take up physical space in a filing cabinet that could be devoted to better uses. With digital forms, you have none of these issues. Information exists on a hard drive (or in the cloud) and is easy to find, refer to, and work with at all times.

Saying “Goodbye” to Paper, Once and For All

In the end, having the ability to formally say “goodbye” to paper-based processes in an educational environment is hardly anything new. The technology itself has existed for years. It’s just that it has taken until recently for the masses to fully understand why it’s worth the effort to do so in the first place.

In the short term, you make the lives of teachers, students, and even administrators easier. But in the long term, you make them more effective. You create learning environments that are more efficient and, as a result, more likely to generate successful outcomes. The more you can streamline the education process, the better it becomes. That gives the current generation access to resources that previous ones didn’t have. Considering that this is a big part of what teachers are supposed to do in the first place, it’s easy to see why this is an exciting position to be in.

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