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For many of us, school life changed forever on the afternoon of March 13th, 2020. That weekend, I packed my parents’ car with my schoolwork: heavy textbooks, campus library books (that I have yet to return), binders of graded assignments from TA’s, my laptop, and my tablet. The following week, I sat at the kitchen table beside my mother in my hometown and attempted to complete my final assignments as if a global pandemic hadn’t just ruined them. 

Nearly a year later, I’m reflecting on the ways my work ethic and relationship to university have transformed through this past year. I’ve realized that online school has allowed me to study as a paperless student.

Over the years, I have been slowly transitioning into studying paperless. I’ve relied on my tablet to read and annotate readings, taken lecture notes on my computer, submitted assignments online, and more. The only thing that has ever held me back were the external forces like my instructors. In high school, it was my teachers who provided stacks of paper (assignment sheets, readings, lesson instructions) for each unit. In university, it was my TA’s asking for essays to be submitted as physical copies. But because of this past year, none of that has been possible!

My current arsenal for virtual learning isn’t even that hefty. On my iPad, I use Adobe Acrobat Reader to import my readings as PDFs and annotate them. I write and highlight with a $20 stylus I bought online. On my MacBook, I take advantage of the free Microsoft Suite for students. I take lecture notes on Microsoft OneNote and write assignments on Microsoft Word. Aside from the basics like calendar, a web browser, notes, and Grammarly, I also use myHomework to keep track of due dates and sync them on my devices. Lastly, virtual learning has prompted my professors to assign fewer textbooks; on the rare occasion that I have a physical textbook required, I scour the internet or library for a PDF, eBook, or even audiobook. Just like that, I’m 100% paperless!

Going paperless has many advantages. Most obviously, I now use less paper and writing material, which is a notable sustainability improvement. Beyond that, digitizing my work has also made everything more convenient. I don’t need to carry as many heavy collections of paper and everything I need is split between two devices that are synced together with iCloud. As well, this also cuts down on my study expenses immensely. I no longer buy printer ink, binders, writing utensils, or textbooks.

Admittedly, this is possible because I am a student in the humanities, where lecture notetaking doesn’t involve drawing diagrams or professors assigning countless physical textbooks. I am not here to shame anyone who is not in the position to go 100% paperless; however, I am here to encourage anyone to take small steps toward reducing their paper consumption and waste by briefly brainstorming how their daily schoolwork can be digitized. And a note on technology: I mention my iPad and MacBook but any devices will work perfectly, as will combining these tips onto one device.

It’s about time I made this leap! As more and more of our lives get digitized, going paperless in your personal and academic lives is the logical next step.

Mayson is a third-year McMaster student majoring in Indigenous Studies and English & Cultural Studies. She loves writing, making playlists, reading, and walking her cat. Whenever she's back in her hometown, Mayson takes her deaf cat Holiday on daily walks outside!
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