I’ve been hearing about the “paperless” office (and, by extension, paperless school) for nearly 40 years. Doug even talks about it in his recent The Next Big Thing(s) post.
To which I say, HA!
Here’s the reality: we’re using more paper. Vast quantities of more.
Example? Teachers are encouraged to create a syllabus and post it online (in addition to adding assignments to the LMS, but that presents problems for those trying to plan forward as those only go assignment by assignment without providing an overview). So, they post it as a .doc or .pdf, or include it in a class online folder. So far, so good. But… many students want to see it in paper, or to add teacher comments about assignments. So they print it out. Then they lose that copy. Solution? Print another copy. Etc..
Example? Teachers find an article, essay, short story or something similar and (as with the syllabus) post it online so students can read it for class discussion. Guess what? Yep. Multiple printings.
We have a print management system at Milton. And it works… sort of. The problem comes when the student doesn’t see the document in their print queue immediately, assumes it never got there (there’s a delay, sometimes of about five minutes) and sends it again. Rather than deleting the duplicate, they Print All. Or it takes forever to actually download and print, so they leave and print elsewhere (we had a 100+ page document print that way).
At my last school, students would send a document to print and when it didn’t, send again. All too frequently, the printer had run out of paper.
Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in school, we got one copy. One. And we took care not to lose it because there was no way to get another one (copiers were scarce, so often it meant hand copying the original). I suspect that if you looked at school paper budgets over time – even the past decade, as more schools have gone to laptop or tablets for everyone – you’ll see an increase.
The reality is that students don’t want to read on their screen (for longer pieces) or it’s cumbersome to access the document/information. Teachers, encouraged by their schools, post more and more because, hey, it’s online and they’re not printing. But that just moves the cost of paper and tone and time onto families and students.
I’m not recommending a return to those Dark Ages. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we’ll ever be paperless in the way Doug means – paperLESS would be nice, PaperSAME perhaps achievable.