A Digital Worksheet is Still Just a Worksheet

digital worksheets

Recently, there have been a number of tech tools that have been created to help enhance teacher productivity and improve assignment workflows in the classroom. Take, for example, the excellent OneNote Class Notebook Creator. It is an ideal app for Office 365 schools who want to quickly distribute materials to a whole class, have students work in a paperless environment, while also providing a collaboration space for the whole class to work in.

Google Apps schools are flocking to Google Classroom – a management tool for teachers who are looking to consolidate and simplify the flow of electronic files. It lets you make a copy of an individual document and distribute it to students with permissions configured automatically so that only the student and the teacher can see the document. There is also a discussion feed for students to communicate inside your Google Classroom.

iPad classrooms are using workflow apps like Showbie as a way for students to turn in assignments created on the iPad so teachers can grade them and give feedback. Similar apps like Skaffl, Handouts, and Turnitin do much the same thing, while others are turning to cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive to meet the same need.

Then there are the many learning management systems that were created to take your classroom to the cloud. Canvas, Moodle, Schoology, Blackboard, Haiku, BrainHoney and many many more exist because teachers are looking for simple ways to unify the experience of delivering content and working online with students.

However, there’s a problem with all of these systems. The problem is, that they make it too easy for teachers to do what they always used to do – assign worksheets that don’t challenge, engage and empower students in their learning. A digital version of a paper worksheet is still just a worksheet, and it is not taking advantage of the powerful technologies that students have at their fingertips today.

It doesn’t matter whether you are using Chromebooks, Macbooks, iPads or Surface tablets. A low-level worksheet is a low-level worksheet whether it is in paper form, a PDF, a Word Doc or a Google Doc. Whether they type on it, or write over it with digital ink, it makes no difference. I know it is quick, easy, and convenient to assign. I know because I did it myself when I was in the classroom. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher, but your students deserve better.

None of these tools are inherently flawed. In fact the majority of them are fantastic because they  offer multiple solutions to a very real digital problem. However, I would encourage you to use them in a way that is most befitting a modern digital classroom. Use them to collect authentic assignments that demand creativity. Use them as part of project based or inquiry driven learning projects. Use them to showcase learning in a way that can only be captured with an electronic device.

Consider collaborative projects in Office Online or Google Drive. Have your students write a blog post or create a website to showcase their learning. Have them create a screencast or an Office Mix presentation. Assign them a video project that combines other multimedia content or take advantage of stop motion and green screen effects to communicate their learning. Have them create a Thinglink, an interactive timeline, or a custom Google Map. Challenge them to some App Smashing (it’s not just for iPads by the way), tell some digital stories, create some Kahoot quizzes, or reach out for new ideas like augmented reality, QR codes, and makerspaces.

I know there is a lot out there, and I know it gets overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and help is at hand. The chances are high that someone in your building is already doing this, and if they aren’t, there are thousands of educators on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that will be more than happy to help you out and share their ideas.

Start small. Begin by replacing just one worksheet with an idea like the ones above and see how it goes. Watch the reaction you get from your students. As time goes by, continue to look for more ways to leverage the power of your digital devices and integrate meaningful digital experiences to demonstrate learning in new and innovative ways. Trust me. It will challenge your students, motivate them, and engage them in something deeper, and more meaningful, than any worksheet you can lay your hands on.