The title of this post is borrowed from a quote I recently saw from Brian Kuhn, the technology leader with the Coquitlam School District. This quote struck me because 1) he is right and 2) this is a dramatic change in thinking in just a couple years.
When I spoke at Opening Day for our district in early September, I described how technology, sustainability, and transparency are three themes that are underlying the work we do, and will continue to be very influential for all operations in our district. Gary Kern, our Principal of Technology and Innovation, in speaking with our Board of Education last week, also emphasized the role of sustainability in his work as he described our district’s technology strategy for this year. While we don’t want to limit a discussion on sustainability to printing and paper consumption, it is clearly part of our commitment in this area.
Until the past couple of years, our efforts in school districts have been to make printing more convenient. What started as photocopiers in the office, spread to multiple copiers in schools, then to printers in computer labs to, in some places, printers in most rooms and at many work stations. The cost of printers came down, and the need for convenience drove changes. Until coming to West Vancouver three years ago, I had spent the previous decade with a printer on my desk.
The paper tide has been shifting. While printers have come down in price, we have become increasingly aware of the ink and paper costs that eat-up supply budgets in school districts, and sustainability has moved to the forefront of discussions. At the same time, technology has allowed us to digitally replicate activities which previously had been limited to being done on paper.
Today our school newsletters have moved to being almost exclusively digital. Even with a conservative estimate of 30 pages of newsletters sent home with each child in a given year, this savings is over 200,000 sheets of paper. This year we have also begun to move permission forms to the digital environment. In addition to the savings in staff time, just at school start-up alone, we are photocopying 30,000 fewer sheets of paper because of this one change. These changes in our business practices will only continue as our websites continue to evolve as our primary communication tool with our students, parents and community.
As teachers experiment with virtual classrooms, we are seeing more teachers taking advantage of “hand in” boxes that allow students to submit assignments and teachers to assess work without a paper copy ever having to be made.
So, back to the quote that led off this post, “printing will continue to become more inconvenient”. Over the next few years we will have fewer copiers and fewer printers. Resources that have been spent on ink and paper can be redirected in schools to other needs. I suggested on Opening Day that we could reduce our paper consumption by 20% this year. When we look to hit print on our computer, or use the Xerox, we should be always asking ourselves if we are doing this because we need to do it, or because we have always done it this way.