Education in the 21st century: of chalkboards & mimeographs…the digital classroom.

Via Todd Mayville
on Sep 11, 2008
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A couple of weeks ago, I began something of a milestone in my life: my 20th year as an educator. In a lot of ways, not much has changed. The right still wrings its hands over “the state of our public schools” while the left institutes the “reform of the week,” and teachers are still underpaid for the job they do and the responsibility they have. Yet, there are many things that have changed.

My first classroom had a chalkboard and I usually used a mimeograph machine to make copies. Then came photocopiers and dry erase white boards. My current classroom is equipped with a laptop computer, LCD projector, and a Smart Board. I record my classes onto my laptop then upload the podcasts of them to the class website. As of last year, I began working with another teacher in my building to lead a green initiative leading our colleagues toward paperless classrooms. I do not accept hard copies of any student work. Essays are either emailed to me, given to me on a flash drive, or shared with me via Google Docs. My students no longer write weekly journals, they write weekly blogs. A student that is absent is able to go to the class website to download the notes and listen to that day’s podcast. I’ve only actually used the white board in my room three times this year and usually only if I hadn’t set up my Smart Board for whatever reason. From a budgetary standpoint, the district’s gotta love me: there are teachers who’ve made more photocopies in one day than I’ve made so far this year. The principal has stated that when we move to the new high school building next year, the expectation of a paperless classroom will be placed on every teacher.

And yet, for as cool as this all is, there are a good many of my colleagues who are reluctant to consider doing even half of what I am doing with my students. For some, it’s technology itself. They don’t understand it, so they don’t want anything to do it. For others, the idea of recording class and putting it on the web where anyone, including parents, can hear it scares the bejeebus out of them. Yeah, sure, it’s a little scary putting myself out there like that: for all intents and purposes, the walls of my classroom have begun to vanish; before long, they’ll be completely gone.

The use of all of this technology in my classroom isn’t actually all that unique, though it may be so at the secondary level. More and more colleges have actually headed this way already, taking advantage of the technological savvy that the current generation of college students possesses. A recent graduate came home from CSU last weekend, and over a cup of coffee at the Laughing Goat, he talked with me about how his professors require him to blog and to hand in their work electronically. The instructor of his composition class actually told the students that if they had bought the book for the class that they should take it back: all of the readings for his class were available online.

Yet, I get a sense that this is just the beginning. I still have yet to hook up the webcam to my computer, which will give me the ability to capture my class on video, giving my students the chance to watch the video of the class that they missed, and “distance learning” classes online via video are already a reality on many college campuses.

What does this mean for education? I have no idea. But I do have hopes. With all of this technology, with all of the global connections now available to my students, I maintain the hope that in the long run we can use this technology to bring us to a greater understanding of who we are as a species, as human beings. I maintain the hope that through increased contact with young people from other cultures, the goal of a world where warfare really is outdated is just over the horizon.


About Todd Mayville

Todd is a single dad of four diverse and lively kids, and is an English teacher and climbing team coach at a local public high school. A rock climber, cyclist and avid reader, Todd also practices yoga and meditation as often as he possibly can, which helps him stay at least a little centered and sane.


8 Responses to “Education in the 21st century: of chalkboards & mimeographs…the digital classroom.”

  1. Dave Tarwater says:


    Good things are happening in your classroom. I am interested in knowing how the students are reacting to their new paperless world in your class?

  2. lindsey says:

    Thanks for the peek into today’s classroom, Todd! (I’m having flashbacks to when I had mono as a kid, and someone having to lug all of those hard cover books to my home so I could catch up). I share your hope too that with an increased connection to other cultures, we’ll have an increased sensitivity and understanding that may lead to a more peaceful world.

  3. France says:

    Since I’m 53 I was in school a long time ago – love reading how progressive classrooms are now, at least your classroom, and saving trees is a plus. My hope would be that, in the not too distant future, a child in Africa or Nepal could log into a global school web site and join your class. Maybe you could be paid by a global school bank funded by HUB or some other type of humanitarian group? The benefits for everyone are obvious. 3 Cheers for all your effort!

  4. At the elementary teaching level, some things don’t change, while others–with a sustainable motive–can change. Five year old girls and boys still want to learn how to swing on the monkey bars and hang upside down, but in the classroom old calendars can be cut into perfect squares for origami star baskets that themselves look like mandalas,and various sources of white paper can be found for children’s drawings and water colours. My favorite source is from an artist friend who saves all her matting ends and beautiful paper scraps for me. As always magazines can be brought in for collages and so many parents do this for me. In Nova Scotia every classroom has a green bin for organic waste and kids at the end of the day are rotaed to bring the green bins out to the larger covered compost site. All paper is separately recycled and bagged. At the Shambhala School all bottles, tetra packs, etc. are recycled as well. I use the cardboard TP rolls to put around children’s rolled up drawings and paintings, a more protective wrap than rubberbands in their backbacks. Provincially and privately schools are recycling and trying to be more sustainable which makes even the youngest child more mindful.

  5. Blake says:

    I love the way you are setting your class up for college. it is great to see a teacher stepping up and being the “big man” in technology. Sometimes I wish That My school would do this for us! But i
    believe they are so tied into the stereotypical way where as you are standing up for what teachers should be doing to get there students ready for for college and for the outside world in general.
    Blake T.

  6. […] this month, and we had our Open House/parent-teacher conferences, so I was able to show off my digital classroom. The parents that came in seemed to be impressed and pleased with their student’s use of […]

  7. Todd says:

    My students are reacting to it with mixed feelings. Some are thrilled. I actually had to get computers added to my classroom because I often had at least 4-6 students waiting to blog each day. On the other hand, there have been some students who are actively resisting, at least in part due to lack of familiarity/fear of the technology. Overall, though, the paperless classroom is a huge hit.

    One of my goals this year is to find at least one other classroom somewhere else in the world and partner with them. I think it would be phenomenal for my students to be able to interact with students from another country/culture. The technology exists (via WiziQ and others) to actually co-teach a class anywhere in the world… I am REALLY excited about that idea!

    I love the fact that elementary school kids are getting outside to play… kids absolutely, positively need to be kids (I loved the monkey bars!), and I will be writing about the No Child Left Inside movement later on, and I firmly believe that mindfulness should be a required part of the curriculum, regardless of age (yeah, there’s another clue to yet another article on education coming forthwith… stay tuned!).