Still using paper?

Paul Woodward
16th December 2016 at 11:03

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Still using paper?

Technology has progressed beyond all recognition over the last 30 years yet there is still one area of design and technology in the classroom that still seems reluctant to make the move to technology; the use of digital folders! As an advocate of digital presentation from a teacher and moderator’s point of view, the benefits far outweigh the arguments for obstacles to adopting a digital approach.

One barrier often put up is the argument that the school doesn't have the IT infrastructure or budget to develop an all digital route to project and portfolio management. Understandable but if you have a VLE such as Office 365 or Google Documents in your school which is very likely, then you have all you need other than factoring in a scanner or camera and you only need to look at the cost of printing and ink to see that those two are a bargain! The advantages go much further than just neater presentation, the digital folder can contain computer animations of 3D models, web links to minimise research, video interviews with clients and much more. Rather than just being a more convenient way to store and present design work; technology can really bring ideas to life and present concepts in way paper never could.

Factor in total control of the digital folder, 24 hour access for staff and students from anywhere and the automatic archiving of work and it’s hard to see why anyone would want to continue with tatty combinations of A4 and A3 paper perilously connected with treasury tags. Additionally, the assessment and recording of controlled assessments can also be shared interactively with students and there is always the promise of shared virtual environments in the near future. If you are reluctant to take the plunge, consider that digital folders may well become the standard at some point in the very near future, in which case, isn’t it better to make the move now?

Consider these ten advantages a digital portfolio has over a paper based approach:

1. Automatic backup and archiving of the material which can easily be replaced from a digital source.

2. The ability to amend folders indefinitely including the use of spell check to increase the quality of communication.

3. Speedy and cheap delivery to the moderator with no risk of losing the original work with the ability to store all work cheaply and effectively in the cloud or on servers.

4. Use of animations, audio/video and web links to reduce visual material in the folder (make a mood board online if you still do that sort of thing).

5. 24 hour access to the portfolio by staff and student via one drive or similar with timestamp on new or additional work to deter production of work out of CA time (although I have my own thoughts on CA time restrictions anyway!).

6. Assessment and feedback directly within the portfolio for staff and students benefit.

7. Zero storage space taken up by models, piles of papers and plastic folios.

8. No more paper and associated printing costs or bulky folders to store, bind (and lose!)

9. An environmental approach to portfolios given how much paper and card will be saved (good to practice what you preach)

10. Walk rounds of finished projects, video interviews and evaluations all of which help to show the project to its best, aid the moderation process and remove doubts about the quality of outcomes (unless of course it is held together with blu tack and the back isn't painted yet).

I could probably add another ten advantages to this list with ease but I am sure readers who have yet to adopt a digital approach have their reasons.

From a personal point of view I would never go back and, even in short term roles in my final year of teaching, I successfully moved departmental work to an all digital approach in D&T and another subject as well. When the moderator wanted a sample of work, it took minutes to collate the folders, add in the requisite forms in Word and copy it to a memory stick which then popped in a jiffy bag and went 1st class for pennies. Have you seen the postage cost of a parcel of folders recently not to mention how much they weigh?

As a teacher and faculty leader, I had a single memory stick the size of a few pound coins that now holds almost a decade of digital work; completed folders, assessments, CAD files, photos of finished products and much more. In fact just about everything produced in schools since I first picked up a digital camera. From a slightly more selfish moderators point of view, when a memory stick arrives in the post I breathe a sigh of relief as it makes the whole process much easier not to mention the fact that I can reference directly to the material as I write the feedback form. Any missing or additional work can be emailed to me if necessary and I don't have to watch with dread as yet another huge pile of papers slips off the kitchen worktop...

Regardless of my personal preferences, I struggle to see the argument for keeping paper based folders in an age where the technology needed to go digital is so readily available. As for hand drawing and modelling skills, I support them as much as ever but they are easily photographed and inserted into folders and for those who still like paper based folders for resources and presentations, it's just as easy to print the whole thing off as and when you need to. With the new subject reforms due to begin next September, why not take the plunge and prepare for a digital approach if you haven't already. I am sure you will benefit in the long run and I can assure you that the postman and your moderator will certainly thank you.  




Paul taught design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a creative arts faculty as well as teaching art, ICT, photography and media studies. He is currently taking a break from education to return to the design industry.

His Subject Genius blog was shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.