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« Reflections on Rubrics for Administrators | Main | CODE77 Rubrics for Administrators 2010 Part 10 of 10 »

Paper-free committee-ment

Every snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty. Stanislaw J. Lec

Our district spends about $400,000 on printing ($60 per student) each year - and that doesn't count computer printers, just photocopying. The print-shop in my department which is supposed to be for "big jobs" pushes out 6-7 MILLION impressions each year (nearly 1,000 per student) and this doesn't include the copying done in each of our individual buildings (so you can safely double that number). That works out to about 12 impressions per student per day (2000/170). What might it take to make a school district, if not paperless, at least less paper dependent for both financial and ecological reasons?

I believe our adoption of GoogleApps for Education is a good first step. For those who wish to do so, sharing information electronically just got a whole lot simpler because of Apps. It's easy and fast to simply create (or upload) a document to Docs, then invite others to view it, either as individuals or as members of a Group. It's easier than using e-mail attachments - and a whole lot easier than printing, copying and mailing.

But how does one change a "paper-trained" mindset like that of a large organization like ours?

About all I can do, I believe, is lead by example.  I am going to see if I can't make the committees I run paper-less. What does it take?

  • Using all electronic agendas, minutes and handouts ... and having a strong will to resist the temptation not to make paper copies for the meeting itself. OK, I know people will print agendas and bring them to the meeting. I didn't JUST fall off the turnip truck. Isn't this just redistributing the printing instead of reducing it? Sure many people will print everything sent to them. But some, perhaps a growing number, won't. And there won't be those extra copies made for those who didn't make it to the meeting. Oh, making these documents editable as well as viewable opens up a whole new means of group participation.
  • Sharing information in meetings via projection rather than handouts. An LCD projector with the agenda, reports and activities makes sense to me. If people want a written record, they can use their own notebooks, scrap paper or...
  • Allowing Inviting members to bring laptops, PDAs, netbooks, smartphones, etc to meetings. To access committee information and take nores. Oh, have open wireless access to make these devices maximally useful.
  • Keeping a reliable and accessible archive of past committee communications digitally. Many of us of the paper-trained generation just trust paper copies more than online -probably due to early bad digital storage experiences. Both GoogleDocs, Gmail's large storage capacity and Group's discussion sections allow communications to be easily stored and retrieved without resorting to dead trees and petrochemicals.

When asked about the cost savings expected by the adoption of GoogleApps, not needing to update and support an in-house mailserver and client software is the most immediate reason. Sure, there is a little cost savings there. But what if we could, because of simple electronic document sharing, cut our printing costs in half? What if, by moving to cloud-based applications, we could supply $300 netbooks to kids instead of $1000 laptops? And when all kids have netbooks, can't we start to decrease the money we spend on textbooks by using Curriki, Moodle and other teacher-created resources? And further reduce copying costs as well.

Meaningful paper reduction will mean everyone thinking twice about how necessary any copy is to make. See below...

But hey, if one can't implent an idea like this during a budget crisis, when would it go?

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Reader Comments (8)

Now is indeed the time. The copy room keeps totals on each teacher and I've been the lowest numbered one every year. I'm not bragging, I just don't like "dittos." I used the overhead projector until we got the ceiling mounted projector. The students keep their work in composition notebooks which makes their work easier to keep track of and show progress. The classroom wiki has links to activities and their online "published" writing. I love paper for note-taking and have to use it for some record-keeping, but it's getting easier every year to do without the avalanche.


January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

I would add to the 2nd bullet - make the presentations available to others digitally. I just completed a G&T 30 hour workshop. (5 meetings). I now have a binder with well over a thousand pages. It will sit on a shelf and gather dust. I asked them why they didn't have a digital version posted that was - search able and got "This is the way was have always done it".

I wish we had Google APPS for school. We do have weblockers. I can send my kids documents and they can submit things electronically - but it doesn't work for video or MP3.

January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

While sitting in the core room yesterday I heard two teachers talking about quickly getting enough quizzes printed for their class that started three minutes ago. I, on the other hand, have already saved copies of all my handouts and schedules on the school's web site.

The unit 1 quiz I gave 90 students has been graded by the web site, and there are no papers for the students to lose.

The assignment I just covered in class will be saved to a LMS site with no paper for me to give them and nothing for them to print. I can also place all of the files and handouts on the LMS site (Haiku) for the rest of the unit, so students could work at their own pace.

Not sure if I am ahead of others, but I sure like the convenience - and by the way, a 2 GB flash drive weighs significantly less that a milk crate full of paper.

January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

I like it, Doug. Even for students, I am encouraging GoogleApps, using Wikispaces as a drop box. I'm all about reducing the amount of paper flying around my workspace, classroom, and home. I may just make the PRINTED WORD valuable again.

January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTodd Wandio

Going "paper-less" is a personal goal of mine this year. I'm a teacher librarian in a K-5 building and, so far, with just over half of the school year gone, I have not printed or copied one piece of paper for instruction. Even the Kindergarten students have learned to navigate Kidspiration to click and drag correct answers to demonstrate their understanding. 4th and 5th graders have learned to reply to discussion posts in as "tests". It's been a little challenging at time because our elementary students do not have email accounts or unique usernames/passwords, but so far I'm making it work. Guess what: the students love it and I'm not surprised anymore by what even the youngest can do.

January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob Follmuth

But hey, if one can't implent an idea like this during a budget crisis, when would it go?

Indeed! What if we could do education more cheaply going digital, than continuing with pulp- and ink-based communication, what would be stopping us?

I think that an important tipping point would be ubiquitous access to the technology necessary to participate in a networked, digital, and abundant information environment -- either providing it, or expecting it.

I hear stories about districts finding that going digital has saved them money, but evidently none of it seems conclusive enough, or not conclusive enough to "change."

Thanks, bro!

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Warlick

Would you believe that my district has actually blocked access to many GoogleApps with their webfilters? They shell out millions of dollars for software and photocopies amidst a major budget crisis, but they won't let us use GoogleDocs from school computers.

Thank you for posting this. I'm working on a memo to get justify getting GoogleApps un-blocked, and you've provided many persuasive arguments to support my case.

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlison Eber

Hi Jim,

My sense is that in order to control our printing we will need to bite the bullet and track/limit individual use. I suspect part of the savings might get eaten up by hiring secretarial staff to track all this!


Hi Kimberly,

Good idea about making the presentations available. GoogleDocs and Slideshare both make that pretty simple.

We too have given kids file storage space on local servers here. Hopefully we can do away with this when we give kids GoogleDocs.

Isn't "this is the way we've always done it" a tiresome statement?

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Kenn,

Now to pass this knowledge on to the rest of your staff. It's tough convincing people that a little upstream learning time results in a lot of down steam time savings!

Oh, my next learning objective is to make self-grading quizzes in GoogleDocs forms!

All the best,


Hi Todd,

And the really critical stuff we can put on stone tablets. What a concept!


Hi Bob,

This sounds like it would make a fascinating article for LMC or School Library Journal!


Hi David,

Oh, I think we all know it is less balance sheet than mindset that keeps schools from providing $250 netbooks instead of reams of paper and printed textbooks and mailed letters home!

Will we live long enough to see the transition???


Hi Alison,

If your school adopts GoogleApps for Education, it can be set up as more or less a "walled-garden" with users only being able to share information internally. That might ease the fears of some of your policy-makers.

All the best,


January 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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