Confession #5 – Class handouts

78 pages.

That is my confession today.  A massive, mind-blowing, 78 pages.

78 pages is the number of pages of paper that I have collected in handouts since I started my challenge.  These are hand outs from class:  a copy of the presentation for a class that is due to start immediately (and the presentation as not yet been uploaded online), an article to read for the next class, details of an upcoming assignment that will be discussed in that class, etc. A typical scene at the start of a Cambridge lecture is a pile of lecture notes at the front of the class, and students dutifully taking them.  The stack of paper can be a foot high at the start sometimes, and for the most part it disappears into the hands of students.

I have tried to avoid taking hand outs, and for the most part take all my class notes on my iPad.  I don’t take all, and in fact it would have been useful for me to record the amount I have avoided over the same time period.  My guess would be that I have avoided significantly more than I have taken, but I cannot put metrics to it.

But I cannot avoid the fact that I have taken the handouts, and thus used paper.  My use usually is a result of two factors:

  1. The document is going to be discussed or used in class imminently
  2. The document has not yet been made available online

When both of these are true, I have taken the document.  If one is not true, then I have generally avoided taking the document.  For example, if the document is not going to be used imminently (e.g. a reading for next class) but will be available online soon, I will avoid taking the document.  If the document went online just before class but I don’t have internet access (e.g. at the Judge Business School, where engineering students don’t have access to the wireless internet), I may also take it if I feel the need to put my comments directly on the document during the lecture;  however, I have not found internet access to be a significant problem.

What I have found as a problem is that Lecturers view online notes as a secondary thought, to be done after the lecture, if at all.  I had one Lecturer even tell me that the notes will never be put online, as he was concerned that students wouldn’t come to class if they could get the notes online – at least with hand outs, the students come to class to pick up the hand outs (what great force is stopping someone from picking up multiple copies for their friends is beyond me…).  Needless to say, I am not taking that class.

In order for me to avoid paper from class hand-outs, two things need to happen:

  1. Lecturers should think (or be required) to put the notes/readings/etc. online first, then print for potential class hand outs (if any!).  If handouts go online first, then that ensures that anything handed out in class can be downloaded instead by anyone with a computer or tablet, and then can use the online version.
  2. There needs to be internet access for all students that attend a lecture.  The balkanization of internet access at Cambridge is a bit hilarious, with different networks and login names/passwords for colleges, departments, even divisions within departments.  Makes it difficult to carry on a paper less lifestyle.

Of the two, the first needs to be the priority.  Other than the department dictating to the Lecturers – who famously don’t like being dictated to – how can we make this change?

Be paperless,


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1 Response to Confession #5 – Class handouts

  1. davismaks says:

    Micah! We are all in the same boat here and I stand beside you in the fight to get lectures uploaded to Camtools pre-lecture as standard!
    Sadly, not all lecturers have cottoned on to the fact that not uploading a lecture to Camtools HAS NO SIGNIFICANCE on getting students to come to the class.
    If you are ill, then you get some one else to pick you up some notes. If you can’t be bothered, you get someone else to pick you up some notes. But then if you are ill, there is nothing much the lecturer can do about it. And if you can’t be bothered….might this have more to do with the quality of the lecturing than whether or not they upload to Camtools?
    I would like to take this opportunity however to sing the praises of a) those forward thinking lecturers who do indeed upload their lecture notes to Camtools before the start of the lecture, b) those oh-so-revolutionary lecturers who upload the entire course series to Camtools at the start of the course, and c) those lecturers who at least have the decency to mention at the commencement of the lecture that they will be uploading to Camtools (although it would be really, really handy for us technolovers if you did it before, so that we could annotate the powerpoint slides as the lecture progresses!).

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