Following the Paper Trail: An Analysis of the use of Paper and Online Platforms in Classrooms on Dalhousie University’s Studley Campus
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Dalhousie University aims to be a leader in sustainability amongst Canadian universities (Office of Sustainability, 2013). One way that the university is addressing sustainability issues on campus is by decreasing paper use in classrooms. Limited research has been conducted to understand the comparative environmental effects of using paper or electronic resources in classrooms. Likewise, limited research has been conducted regarding instructor and student motivations for choosing electronic resources over paper, or vice versa. Our research project addressed this knowledge gap by conducting surveys and interviews within undergraduate faculties on Dalhousie University’s Studley campus. The surveys and interviews attempted to answer the questions, what are professor and instructor motivations for using paper or online platforms such as Blackboard Learn (BBL) in their classes, and what are student preferences regarding the use of paper or BBL in their classes? We used purposive, non-probabilistic snowball sampling to select undergraduate faculty members and students from the Faculties of Arts and Social Science, Science, Management and Computer Science on Studley campus. We used semistructured interviews to understand faculty motivations and an online questionnaire to understand student preferences. 12 interviews were conducted with teaching faculty. We found that interviewees who preferred online platforms cited reasons such as reduced paper waste, ease of use of online platforms, and ease of file organization. Interviewees who preferred paper cited reasons such as ease of reading and marking, versatility, and the possibility that students do not always have access to computers for class. We received 154 completed student questionnaires. The Faculties of Arts and Social Science, Science, and Computer Science each made up roughly 30% of respondents. The Faculty of Management or other, undefined faculties made up the remainder of responses. The questionnaire consisted of 15 questions with a focus on student preferences regarding the use of paper or online platforms, as well as the general level of concern for environmental sustainability. We identified common class materials and activities, and asked respondents to state whether they preferred paper or online methods for each. In general, students prefer paper for quizzes, tests, and exams; they prefer online platforms such as BBL more frequently for syllabi, class handouts, readings, and assignments. Our research is context specific; it cannot be generalized to other campuses or universities because it is grounded in the specific experiences of our interviewees and questionnaire respondents. However, it is our hope that this project will be a catalyst for further research in this area in order to foster environmental sustainability at Dalhousie University. Furthermore, we hope that this project helped participants to consider the impact of paper use on campus and the motivations behind choosing to use paper materials within the university context.