By Jake Schild
An LCT class that focuses on sustainability “practiced what it preached” last spring when it did not produce any paper throughout the duration of the semester, said its professor Dr. Scott Sorvaag.
Sorvaag, dean of education at Saint Mary’s University, taught “Sustainability, Leadership, and the Human Spirit” completely electronically, using resources predominantly found on the Internet.
“We generated no paper – at all,” Sorvaag said. “We didn’t have a textbook. All of it was electronic-based text. The syllabus was never printed and was completely linked. It was a networked syllabus, which means you could link to all the readings from the syllabus. There were a lot of really good video resources we used that were in the public domain that were also linked on the syllabus.”
Students in Sorvaag’s class used the free website polleverywhere.com, which invites feedback from anyone and can gather information via text messaging, web, or Twitter. The website allowed student comments during lectures and while watching movies.
Meg Beerling, a student in the course, liked this way of communicating ideas.
“It gave students a chance to be honest and not have to share those feelings in class,” Beerling said. “It really provided for a lot of honesty and helped with that sense of community. With the open-ended questions, I thought the anonymity really helped.”
Students also did homework and shared ideas on blogs outside of class that could be read by all students. Sorvaag explained that this method allowed for both him and his students to get a broader sense of what was being accomplished by looking at collective ideas from the group rather than focusing on one or two at a time.
“Oftentimes, professors get a stack of papers and we get the advantage of reading all of them,” Sorvaag said. “So we get to take a look at the complexity of all of these ideas, and it’s a very rewarding intellectual experience. One of the things that was designed into this course was to use appropriate tools, so everybody had that experience. You can see kind of how everybody’s thinking about this. That really places you in a different place as far as your ability to
synthesize and evaluate ideas. That’s something that I think was a very positive outcome.”
Students in Sorvaag’s class didn’t know until the first day of class that they would be conducting this paperless experiment. However, Sorvaag said that students responded well to the idea and made it work.
“I think, for the most part, people were open about it,” he said. “When I mentioned the challenge of going paperless, they embraced it. There was some enthusiasm there that I really, really appreciated. I really enjoyed the course. When I see people that were in the class, I get a really positive feeling about what we were able to do together.”